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I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.

ratings
338
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  • Le Morte D'Arthur

    • UNABRIDGED (32 hrs and 51 mins)
    • By Sir Thomas Malory
    • Narrated By Frederick Davidson
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (82)
    Performance
    (59)
    Story
    (59)

    This monumental work made the Arthurian cycle available for the first time in English. Arthur is conceived and taken away in secret, returning as a young man to claim the throne by pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone. In retelling the story of Arthur's rule of Britain, Malory intertwines the romances of Guinevere and Launcelot, Tristram and Isolde, and Launcelot and Elaine. Sir Galahad's appearance at Camelot begins the quest for the Holy Grail.

    Amazon Customer says: "Not Quite as I Remembered"
    "Not Quite as I Remembered"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Like so many, I grew up reading the tales of Arthur, and though it's been years since I've read this particular version of it, it's always stood out to me as one of the best versions. Let it be said that it's still a fantastic version, but it's nowhere near as straightforward as I remember it.

    The knights and their lineages are given rapidly (it's good to have Wiki or some other resource with you), and many of the story points are told out of order or given through prophecy. I realize that spoilers are a bit of a non-issue for a story like this, but for a first-timer, it's not the most friendly version. Then again, they do kind of give you all the spoilers in the book's description, don't they? Even so, it doesn't detract from the magic of the tales.

    This particular reading... skip it. Unless you're already predisposed as liking Frederick Davidson's narrating style, let this be a warning. Like so many other reviewers, I find his voice to be ok, but his tone and presentation make him come across like a British Tommy Lee Jones: bored, annoyed, and otherwise disgusted with the material. I have an abridged version on cassette narrated by Derek Jacobi that I bought some 20+ years ago, and it's a far, far superior reading. I'd love to find an unabridged version by him or someone with equal enthusiasm for the material.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 47 mins)
    • By Alexander Rose
    • Narrated By Kevin Pariseau
    Overall
    (68)
    Performance
    (65)
    Story
    (65)

    Based on remarkable new research, acclaimed historian Alexander Rose brings to life the true story of the spy ring that helped America win the Revolutionary War. For the first time, Rose takes us beyond the battlefront and deep into the shadowy underworld of double agents and triple crosses, covert operations and code breaking, and unmasks the courageous, flawed men who inhabited this wilderness of mirrors—including the spymaster at the heart of it all.

    Mark Mahar says: "History from a different perspective"
    "The Story Behind the Story"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I was only in recent years made aware of the Culper spy ring, and the idea fascinates me. Given the perceptions of what lines could and could not be crossed by certain classes of individuals, this entire story flies right in the face of what the general public would expect. The idea that Washington - the man who would not tell a lie, according to popular legend - was as deceitful as they come to win the war for Independence? That's just priceless.

    The story as presented here is not really for entry-level students of the Revolution. The author gives you the stories and personalities on the new players within the spy ring, but you're expected to know the more prominent figures on both sides, a considerable amount of the politics, and an understanding of the attitudes at different levels. It's completely understandable to make those assumptions of the reader, given that this is more of a story for those already interested and somewhat immersed in the history of the time. The good news is that anyone who finds themselves not up to speed but still willing to dive in head first can get by in the broader view with their Wiki-scholar credentials. Obviously, the more you know about the big picture, the easier it is to appreciate the details of the story told here. I worked from a fairly solid knowledge base, but I'm certainly no expert. I still needed reference points from time to time. The rest worked itself out for me.

    The only real issue I had is that the story does jump around a bit here and there. It's all easy enough to track if you pay heed to the dates and the narrative that unfolds. Others might have difficulties following the details of the coding or the other elements of spycraft, but for me that was part of the selling point of this book. This is geek-level history, and it's fun for me to finally have those details. Considering this is a story that went largely unknown for so long, I applaud the author for putting it all together for the interested reader. Well done.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 50 mins)
    • By Richard Carrier
    • Narrated By Richard Carrier
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (160)
    Performance
    (145)
    Story
    (143)

    Dr. Richard Carrier, world-renowned philosopher and historian, explains the four reasons he does not accept the Christian religion, describing four facts of the world that, had they been different, he would believe. Those four reasons are God's silence, God's inaction, the lack of evidence, and the way the universe looks exactly like a godless universe would, and not at all like a Christian universe would, even down to its very structure. Dr. Carrier addresses all the usual replies to these claims.

    Winston D. Jen says: "Four Foundational Pillars Demolished"
    "Well-Reasoned, Logical Argument"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I love religion. I love to dig into the heart of what makes a given faith tick. I love the discourses of philosophy that support or deny given aspects of it. I love seeing the back and forth of the debated issues, seeing which arguments are the strongest. It's fascinating to me. Because of that, I'm rather surprised I haven't come across Dr. Carrier's work until now.

    This is a solid case for atheism, written as a discourse to be read by Christians. It's well-reasoned. The logic is impeccable, regardless of which perspective you adhere to. Without saying so, it works under Sherlock Holmes' own principle of "When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." In other words, he uses scientific method to seek what's provable. I'm sure there are many of the faith that would have instant negative emotional reactions to this. Regrettably, such is the case when the heart overrides the head. This isn't an argument made to address that.

    I would love to see an equally reasoned argument made in rebuttal to this that accepts provable evidence and explains it with equally provable evidence. I think that'd be an interesting read.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Gravity's Rainbow

    • UNABRIDGED (40 hrs and 1 min)
    • By Thomas Pynchon, Frank Miller (cover design)
    • Narrated By George Guidall
    Overall
    (68)
    Performance
    (62)
    Story
    (59)

    Winner of the 1973 National Book Award, Gravity's Rainbow is a postmodern epic, a work as exhaustively significant to the second half of the 20th century as Joyce's Ulysses was to the first. Its sprawling, encyclopedic narrative and penetrating analysis of the impact of technology on society make it an intellectual tour de force.

    D says: "Like being belted in the head with a Swiss Alp"
    "Long-Winded Drivel"
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    Thanks to the miracle of audiobooks (because I have more time to "read" via this method and retain things better through sound for some reason, I was able to give this book my full attention and conquer the literary milestone that people seem to think it is. All my life I've heard the same things about this book. I've heard that hardly anyone finishes it, and those who do seldom understand it. But I've also heard that for those who do understand it, it's one of the greatest books ever written.

    That's high praise. And from where I'm sitting, sorry to say it... it's also an over-saturated load of bull butter.

    I've read some bad books in my time. We all have. In my experience, Gravity's Rainbow is one of the worst reads I've ever encountered. I have found zero redeeming qualities in it. None. Zip. Zilch. I give it one star because I can't give it -5 or lower.

    I realize this book has a lot of defenders, and I trust this review will be taken with the understanding that my disdain for this work has nothing to do with attacking those who enjoyed it. If you enjoyed it, great. Glad you did. Clearly, you were the target audience, and I'm sorry that this review might hurt your sensibilities. Not sure why you're still reading what I have to say about it, but that's on you, just as it's on me that I actually bothered to finish Gravity's Rainbow. That said, I am inspired to a level of anger requires an exorcism and/or should have me channeling the powers of the Dark Side like a master. And so, like the author himself, I write this rant of a review because I felt obliged to word vomit about it. The difference, of course, is that I freely admit I'm not literary, I don't try to be, and I can make my point in considerably less time. You're welcome.

    I own up to my biases. I am not that "literary minded" as I've said, although I have read Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, and Homer for fun, mixed in with all of the other stuff I enjoy. I also have very little tolerance for the drug culture of the 1970s, from whence this rodent killer of a tome was spawned. It comes down to a matter of taste. I found this book had none, nor was it to mine. I'd find more ready appreciation in a Leonardo or a Monet than in a Pollack. I have a lot better things to do with my time than looking at a canvas spraypainted via firehose or maps drawn by kids with crayons. Give me Beethoven, not the Bee Gees. At the same, though, I did go into this with the idea that there are exceptions to everything, and if so many praise its literary qualities, there had to be something to it. I honestly looked forward to the discovery of what that might be. Having made it to the end and found nothing, I not only feel cheated, I actually feel violated because I'm this angry about it.

    Most tell me that if I don't like the book, it's because I don't understand it. To be honest, it's just not that difficult to figure out. I've encountered and appreciated many "difficult" books before, and I've typically come away the better for the experience. That's not the issue I found here. Instead, I found it to have all of the depth of MAD Magazine, with about the same maturity level, but without the inability to land on a punchline, meaningful or otherwise. I've read Choose Your Own Adventure stories with more plot than this. The overall message of the book is a good one: "make love, not war." Sadly, even that basic positive got pulled down to the level of randy farm animals to the point where anything resembling humanity was lost. I'm certain that was the point too. I'm supposed to applaud this? I got the impression Pynchon thinks he deserves a standing ovation. I object to any writer on moral grounds that says fighting is bad and yet forces the reader to resist epic levels of "HULK SMASH!" urges for the duration of the read.

    The writing style is my largest gripe. People have described it as "crystalline prose," whatever that means. It tries way too hard to impress the idea upon you that it's raw, visceral, and somehow "artsy" without being artsy. Whatever tone he was trying to achieve, I grant that he achieved it, which is quite a feat considering he did it by using the largest amount of semi-coherent babble I've ever ever seen at one time. The readability of this had all of the appeal of watching somebody shave an animal, remove the top layer of its skin, and then feed that skin back to the animal. No, I don't have personal experience with anything like that, but I can imagine quite a bit without the use of drugs that the author clearly needed to achieve the same effect. And it wasn't so much what Pynchon wrote that made me feel the way I do about it. Instead it was more the way he wrote it that caused that reaction. So if that's your benchmark of literary, ok, point Pynchon. He got a bona fide reaction out of me. Good job in making the reader want to turn away from the work in disgust.

    The rest of my issues stem simply from a lack of characters that I cared about or wanted to, and a lack of anything resembling an actual plot beyond the general need of the characters to want to screw everything. It takes absolutely zero talent for anyone to take drugs and get this kind of effect. It boggles the mind that when somebody acts on their visions and writes something down, the "literati" out there prop up both author and book like a pagan idol or a new prophecy or whatever. All it proved to me is that the author was driven to write. There's a fine line between genius and madness, and he crossed it long before the end of his first paragraph. Still, I can't tell anyone not to read it. Everyone makes their own call in that regard. I simply offer my own counterpoint to the choir of would-be angels circling Pynchon's throne in endless hallelujah. I'll be kneeling in reverence over at the altar of Tolkien, if it's all the same. As long-winded as he could be, he at least got to the point and presented it with some manner of coherence. And what do you know... it's the SAME POINT, that war is bad. Tolkien created multiple languages and dialects for his masterpiece. Pynchon spent 1000 pages mangling only one.

    Bottom line: I found this book to be pretentious in the extreme and insulting to the very core of my being. I managed to finish it only because I had an audiobook that could force some kind of forward momentum that the author certainly didn't provide, and I willed myself to do so only because apparently the ending was supposed to make me change my mind and help me to see how brilliant this work is. Calling this literature is like calling FOX News "fair and balanced." At least I can get back my Audible credit and trade it in on something that won't potentially cause an aneurysm. I prefer my reading to be enlightening, educational, entertaining, relaxing, or some combination of any of these factors. This was none of the above. Almost anything would be an improvement over this lamentable mess. Almost.

    More worthy tomes await. I feel better now. I'm done with one.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery

    • UNABRIDGED (3 hrs and 59 mins)
    • By Chögyam Trungpa, Carolyn Rose Gimian (editor), Pema Chödrön (foreword)
    • Narrated By Gabra Zackman, Karen White, Steven Crossley
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (123)
    Performance
    (103)
    Story
    (99)

    Chgyam Trungpa offers us a vision of moving beyond fear to discover the innate bravery, trust, and delight in life that lies at the core of our being. Drawing on the Shambhala Buddhist teachings, he explains how we can each become a spiritual warrior: a person who faces each moment of life with openness and fearlessness. "The ultimate definition of bravery is not being afraid of who you are," writes Chgyam Trungpa. In this audiobook, he offers the insights and strategies to claim victory over fear.

    Sara says: "Essential & Powerful"
    "Abstract, Yet Practical"
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    There is much about Eastern philosophy that I find to be abstract, but I also find that the more I directly engage with it, the more practical it becomes. One of my hobbies is the study of Western (Medieval and Renaissance) martial arts, which relies more on direct application of the system, but not so much on the higher philosophies or mindsets as with the Eastern counterparts. For my part, this is the biggest reason why I find a disconnect between Arthurian chivalry and real world knighthood. Western systems concentrate on "I hit you, you hit the floor," with any strategy directed towards that singular goal. Conversely, any Eastern system embraces the idea of victory of self that leads to victory over situation, which I find most helpful to my own studies, on and off the "battlefield." This book takes that premise and goes even further.

    This book is a real treasure. It defines the idea of the warrior in a way the Western world never truly developed (as a being at one with peace itself through compassion) and applies it both in spiritual terms and in terms of putting a weapon in your hand. The result is a system of thought that not only helps you to evolve as a person, but also a system that evolves with you, leading you to new discoveries that reinforce the lessons. I can't help but knowingly smile when obvious or perceived weaknesses in the Western system are pointed out by comparison of the material presented here. On its own, this is an amazing collection of wisdom. When used in conjunction with or merely compared to Sun Tzu's The Art of War or Morihei Ueshiba's The Art of Peace, the building blocks of enlightenment seem to put themselves together even faster. I'm not sure the Buddhists would appreciate such use of their lessons, but for purposes of my own personal development, I am beyond pleased with the concepts this solidifies and/or opens for me.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • You Only Live Twice: James Bond, Book 12

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 33 mins)
    • By Ian Fleming
    • Narrated By Martin Jarvis
    Overall
    (4)
    Performance
    (4)
    Story
    (4)

    James Bond seems unable to function after the death of his wife. Determined to restore 007 to the effective agent he used to be, M sends him on a mission to Japan, to the mysterious "Castle of Death", and into the lair of an old and terrifying enemy. For Bond and Blofeld, this will be their final encounter. Only one of them can survive.

    Amazon Customer says: "Bond's Japanese Adventure"
    "Bond's Japanese Adventure"
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    From a modern perspective, it could be easy to dismiss this novel as offensive and racist. Fleming is not always known for little things like tact and awareness. However, it should be noted that eastern culture wouldn't become truly open or appreciated in the West for a few more years. Add to that, the culture wasn't nearly as "westernized" as it is by comparison of today, so the attitudes of the culture that Fleming is portraying is an honest assessment, if stereotypical, at least insofar as Fleming's personal perception of it. To his credit, he does play it as respectfully as he knows how, though he does drop some rather offensive slurs here and there per the common western lingo of the time. Even so, if you can work past that, the highlight of differences between East and West provide a unique insight, keeping in mind Fleming's own wartime career in intelligence and the contacts he gained as a result. As to be expected, where there's a different culture, Fleming delights in sharing the nuances of it, especially food, drink, and fighting techniques.

    You Only Live Twice was published about the time of Fleming's death, giving the suggested meaning of the title that extra edge. "You only live twice: Once when you're born, And once when you look death in the face." The intended meaning, of course, is in reference to the events of the previous novel, and to this one as well. Taking place nine months after On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond has since become reckless and unreliable, a danger to himself and others, living only for the moment when he can acquire his next drink. To fix his broken agent, M gives him a new assignment designed to appeal to Bond's overdeveloped ego and sense of patriotism, an improbable task that requires him to temporarily shed his 00 number, reassigned to the diplomatic corps as agent 7777. Bond, to his credit and true to form, rises to the challenge. This assignment is precisely what he needs to back on his feet in the wake of the last novel's events.

    Bond's contact in Japan is Tiger Tanaka, who serves as a guide to Bond and to the reader in all things Japanese. In wartime, Tanaka was a spy in London, trained as a kamikaze pilot. His intended fate was interrupted by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he returned to Japan with a deep respect for the British people he came to know, and with a need to expunge his dishonor as "one of the vanquished." To this end, Bond is given a personal inside education into the ways and means of Japanese culture in order to complete his mission objectives, with limits. In addition to Tanaka's friendship and tutelage, Bond gains from him information involving a Swiss botantist, Dr. Shatterhand, who has built a Garden of Death. Fleming takes particular delight in this invention, listing off the names and origins of the poisonous plants as well as their lethal effects. Shatterhand becomes a player when it becomes known that he has somehow acquired all of information about Tanaka that should be a state secret. As a result, in exchange for Tanaka finally releasing the information Bond needs for his mission, he asks that Bond kill Shatterhand. To accommodate this, he is disguised as a local so as to get close without notice and given a crash course in the use and techniques of ninja equipment. Amongst the intel that Tanaka provides, photos of Shatterhand reveal to Bond the true identity that's of no shock to the reader thanks to spoiler in the book's summary blurb.

    The story's main thrust plays out exactly Fleming readers know it must, but the ending gives us some surprising twists, which I won't spoil here. Suffice it to say, it's interesting to consider the possibilities. All in all, it's a satisfying read for what it is, keeping in mind that the overall story has virtually nothing in common with its big screen counterpart aside from character names and settings.

    As narrator, Martin Jarvis is an interesting choice. I admit I was not familiar with his name, and upon looking up his extensive list of screen and voice acting credits, I realized I've been aware of his work for a number of years. Funny how that works sometimes. In keeping with the running tally of how the narrators pronounce "007," I'm pleased to say he properly gives us a "double-oh-seven" instead of giving us that offending version that I still can't fathom. Character-wise, Jarvis has to do some international acrobatics in regards to his accent, juggling from British to Japanese to Australian to German with an odd character out here and there for a change up. His standard voice sounds to me to be similar to that of Doctor Who's Jon Pertwee, only without the slight lisp. The accents and character voices he uses might seem stereotyped to some, but no less so than the way Fleming writes them (as always), and Jarvis puts his A-game into this, approaching it with professional enthusiasm. The result is that the story is actually more engaging than it might otherwise be in print.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Skin Map: Bright Empires, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 24 mins)
    • By Stephen Lawhead
    • Narrated By Simon Bubb
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (193)
    Performance
    (159)
    Story
    (160)

    Kit Livingston's great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds.

    K. Donath says: "Fun Book!"
    "Not Bad, Better Potential"
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    Most of what I've read from Lawhead so far has been historical fiction steeped in Celtic and Christian lore, all of which I've heartily enjoyed without fail. I love his writing style, I love the verisimilitude he brings to the tale, and I love his character development.

    When I happened upon this series, which is a complete departure from everything I know of his work, curiosity got the better of me. This one purported to be "a unique blend of epic treasure hunt, ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy, and mystery." I can't pass up a description like that from an author I respect!

    Sadly... I'm not yet impressed. Part of it may just be that I can imagine quite a bit, so I was led on by this description with higher hopes. And part of it may be that this isn't Lawhead's finest hour. The ideas are grand enough, don't get me wrong, and there is plenty of potential to be had. But so far most of the characters aren't very well developed, especially by comparison of his other work, and the scale of this adventure doesn't seem quite so epic as it's hinting to be. That said, Lawhead hasn't let me down yet, and what he's dropped into place has plenty of room to grow in a wide variety of directions, so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. For the first time, I'm not chomping at the bit to burn through the rest of a series by this author, but curiosity and past experience will definitely bring me back soon enough.

    Simon Bubb is a worthy narrator for this series, capturing the flavor of the adventure seemingly with ease. My only complaint is that there are some issues about the audio recording itself that are unprofessional at best. It sounds like the mic is set up in a cave somewhere, so there's a hollowness to Bubb's voice that shouldn't be there. Also, there are a few points here and there where it sounds like somebody's hitting the mic stand or a table or something. It's distracting in the moment, but it doesn't happen so often as to be too annoying. Bubb deserves a better production team, I think. I'd love to hear more of his work on another series.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Great Minds of the Medieval World

    • ORIGINAL (11 hrs and 59 mins)
    • By The Great Courses
    • Narrated By Professor Dorsey Armstrong
    Overall
    (37)
    Performance
    (37)
    Story
    (34)

    In this gallery of extraordinary minds, you’ll encounter the leading lights of a world-shaping era, including figures such as Maimonides, Hildegard of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter Abelard, and Francesco Petrarch. Professor Armstrong goes to great lengths to bring these historic figures to life, revealing both the great intellectual contributions and the personal strivings, challenges, and triumphs of some of history’s most remarkable human beings.

    Sean says: "Discovering new heros"
    "People at the Core of history"
    Overall
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    When delving into history, it's very easy to forget sometimes that people are at the center of it. People live, love, think, react, and fight, and this is how history unfolds. The current popular trend in history is to forget this idea that one person can make a difference in how that happens and to look instead at the cultural and social trends, implying that events would have happened anyway even if a given person were not present. I submit this is a flawed way to look at it, built under the same premise that everyone gets a gold star. Somebody sets trends. Somebody comes up with new ideas or sees old ideas in a new way. Somebody acts on these thoughts. Somebody reacts to them. And the cycle goes on.

    I burn through a lot of historical overviews, and the downside is that people are name-dropped, but it's sometimes difficult to know what it is they actually contributed in the grand scheme unless you seek out a more narrowly-focused text on a given person or event, or you happen to be reading a biography. Overviews about people who changed the world are, therefore, of immense value for me. This lecture series is precisely what an armchair historian like myself loves to consume. Think of it in similar vein of Plutarch's Lives, but for the Middle Ages. You get a collection of mini-biographies with a direct emphasis of who these people were, what they contributed, and why that mattered. For newcomers to the Middle Ages who still might see this era as "the Dark Ages," this sort of collection will help to break open and dispel that common misperception. Prof. Armstrong keeps the series thoughtful and engaging, drawing connections between these personalities where applicable to prevent them from existing in a proverbial vacuum of disconnected facts. The side effect of this series for me is that I now have a monster list of new items on my reading list. This is a good problem to have.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • On Her Majesty's Secret Service: James Bond, Book 11

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 6 mins)
    • By Ian Fleming
    • Narrated By David Tennant
    Overall
    (35)
    Performance
    (32)
    Story
    (31)

    In his Alpine base, Blofeld is developing biological weapons that will devastate Britain. Unaware of the danger, James Bond is about to marry Teresa di Vicenzo, the daughter of a Corsican Mafioso. But then he is sent to Switzerland. Bond's marriage and Blofeld's schemes disintegrate in a blizzard of gunfire and high-explosives from which neither man emerges the victor.

    Scott Fogg says: "A Real Treat"
    "Bond Comes Full Circle"
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    By the time On Her Majesty's Secret Service is published, James Bond is making waves internationally, both in print and on the big screen, partly propelled by John F. Kennedy's endorsement of Fleming's From Russia With Love, and partly from the world's need to embrace a hero of this kind in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis less than three months previous. And by this point in the game, Fleming was looking to take Bond in new directions, as many writers do once they've been writing their trademark characters for a while. This began with The Spy Who Loved Me, which was different in style and format, but didn't take truly take Bond himself in any new directions. For Bond to truly evolve as a character, old wounds would need to be addressed, and his greatest nemesis would need to return.

    If it can truly be said that Bond has a weakness, it's boredom. The story takes place in the wake of Operation: Thunderball, wherein Bond has been assigned to basic detective work involving the possible re-emergence of SPECTRE and its chief mastermind, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Bond is unhappy with this assignment, convinced that SPECTRE is smashed, and Blofeld, no matter how ingenious, is incapable of recreating an organization of SPECTRE's caliber. After repeated ignored requests to be reassigned, Bond finds himself at the precipice of boredom, drafting his resignation letter from the Service.

    In the world of James Bond, there are a number of standout women who have known him, but only two define him. The first is Casino Royale's Vesper Lynd, to whom he gave his heart, only to end up betrayed, leading to the string of heartbreaks and one-night stands for which he is known. The second takes the stage here: Teresa di Vincenzo, Tracy to her friends. Tracy's father turns out to be one of the most powerful mafia bosses in the world, with connections enough to learn the whereabouts of Blofeld in exchange for Bond helping to lure Tracy away from her personal death wish. While Bond stalks Blofeld, Tracy is using her father's resources to track down Bond.

    In my mind, this is the most important entry in the original Fleming series, the point where Bond truly becomes the Bond everyone thinks they know, as opposed to merely just a shell for the writer's alter ego to inhabit. The English cold war spy becomes the British superspy capable of transcending the ages yet to come. In tribute to Connery, we are finally given some of Bond's backstory, wherein he is listed as Scottish on his father's side (his mother is Swiss), though ironically Connery would become disenfranchised with the role and stepped down by the time the movie version would come to pass. More importantly, we reinforce the character traits that would push Bond through this story. As I mentioned before, boredom drives him into danger, and his need to pursue his targets to the very ends of the earth causes him to ally himself with forces of which queen and country would certainly not approve. The cost of this dogged pursuit echoes the events of Casino Royale. It's this pursuit that will define Blofeld as Bond's greatest enemy, the Moriarty to Bond's Sherlock Holmes. In trying to take Bond in a new direction, Fleming brings his creation full circle.

    In honor of Bond becoming Scottish, it's only fitting that we get a Scottish narrator who is more than capable of delivering both the worldliness and gravitas needed to present this story to the fullest. "Who" better than David Tennant? With a list of stage, screen, and voice acting credits as long as your arm, Tennant brings his considerable talents to this narration with an understated dignity and charm. He switches between characters, languages, and accents effortlessly in way that will impress if you stop to take note of them. At times, you're tempted to believe he's a completely different person. The cherry on top is that he correctly says "double-oh," regarding the running gag in my reviews of how to correctly pronounce "007."

    Bottom line, this is quite possibly the best novel in the series, made better by a superior presentation.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Heir to the Jedi: Star Wars

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 2 mins)
    • By Kevin Hearne
    • Narrated By Marc Thompson
    Overall
    (527)
    Performance
    (470)
    Story
    (471)

    Luke Skywalker's game-changing destruction of the Death Star has made him not only a hero of the Rebel Alliance but a valuable asset in the ongoing battle against the Empire. Though he's a long way from mastering the power of the Force, there's no denying his phenomenal skills as a pilot--and in the eyes of Rebel leaders Princess Leia Organa and Admiral Ackbar, there's no one better qualified to carry out a daring rescue mission crucial to the Alliance cause.

    Amazon Customer says: "Adventurers with Daddy Issues"
    "Adventurers with Daddy Issues"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    If this novel were written outside of the Star Wars universe, I'd classify it as a simple, fun read. I have no problem with that because it captures the equally simple and fun tone of A New Hope, but without the level of epic that film introduced us to. All of the depth that's added to this story comes as a direct result of author Kevin Hearne delving into questions about Luke's character that Hearne has clearly pondered as a part of his own fandom.

    This tale centers around a Luke Skywalker in transition. Immediately following the destruction of Death Star I, he is a hero to the Rebellion, but nowhere near competent with his abilities to tap the Force. He is perceived as more of an icon and less of a young man. Where this novel shines revolves around Luke's questions concerning his father, the Force, Darth Vader, and all of the unanswered questions that Obi-Wan left behind in the wake of the original film. Likewise, we can even see how the galaxy perceives the events of the Clone Wars, which Hearne uses to full effect. It's well done. The result is we see Luke at perhaps his most vulnerable, taking his next steps into the larger world of the Jedi Knight he'll become.

    Luke is paired off with Katari Kelen, daughter of a biotech mogul who specializes in her own daddy issues and keeping us aware of just how young and inexperienced Luke really is at this point, illustrating just how much he would have to grow in the three years to The Empire Strikes Back.

    I've read some of Hearne's other work, and his strengths and weaknesses are exactly the same here. He's excellent with characters and dialogue. His plots are uncomplicated and propel the story forward. But his world building is questionable at best. He creates some interesting and dangerous creatures, but in the little things he's far too Earthbound, taking me out of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. For example, the ever-ubiquitous coffee substitute "caf" from earlier Expanded Universe ("Legends") novels is all over the place here, and apparently buckwheat, noodles, salt, pepper, citrus, mint, "disposable eating sticks," and other such things from our own world can be found throughout the galaxy. I realize these are shortcuts to help make the Star Wars universe feel more real, but it brings down from epic to mundane by its very mention. Or I should say, it does for me. Maybe that won't bother others, but for me it's the little things that keep you in the story or yank you out of it. The good news is that when these things are brought up, Hearne uses these moments of down time to give us more character, which as I've said is his true strength as a storyteller.

    Bottom line, it's not a great novel by comparison of the truly standout novels in the Star Wars line, but it's a fun one, and Hearne's character explorations of Luke make it a worthy addition to the new canon.

    As narrator, I have to give top marks to Marc Thompson. As this story is told in 1st person, Thompson has to tell most of this book in Luke's voice rather than his own. Not only does he make the most of it, but he does a fantastic job bringing the other characters to life. This is to be expected, given that he's a Star Wars audiobook veteran, but credit where it's due.

    22 of 26 people found this review helpful
  • The Prince

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 47 mins)
    • By Niccolo Machiavelli
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (226)
    Performance
    (196)
    Story
    (197)

    From his perspective in Renaissance Italy, Machiavelli's aim in this classic work was to resolve conflict with the ruling prince, Lorenzo de Medici. Machiavelli based his insights on the way people really are rather than an ideal of how they should be. This is the world's most famous master plan for seizing and holding power. Astonishing in its candor The Prince even today remains a disturbingly realistic and prophetic work on what it takes to be a prince, a king, or a president.

    Cody Brown says: "You have to know what you get with The Prince"
    "Neither Good Nor Evil"
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    Machiavelli's name has become synonymous with evil and corruption, and it was many years with this understanding that I first encountered this book. Now over 20 years later, I return to it with a far better understanding of the situations he writes about and who the players are, most especially Cesare Borgia, whose successes and ultimate failure were of considerable example to this work.

    With this new understanding, I'm able to see the pragmatism behind this book, how as a tool to strengthen the objectives of whoever wields it. That it's become a how-to handbook for the tin pot dictators of history is an unfortunate side effect of its wisdom and simplicity that perhaps Machiavelli foresaw when he opted not to publish it himself. But much like Sun Tzu's The Art of War or the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, this book cannot be judged by those who have taken its instruction in the ages since it was written. This book is truly one for the ages, capable of raising our awareness of both its historical context and of the modern world around us.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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