Anyone who thoroughly enjoys Medieval and Renaissance history as I do can tell you that the history of Christianity is so bound up with it as to be inseparable. The thing is, a great many history books will give you only what's necessary specific to the topic at hand and very little else. Even books on the Crusades, which presumably center around religion, will leave the underlying faith as an accepted and understood issue, touching upon the heretical issues as they come up.
This book is specifically geared towards pretty much anyone who wants the details as well as the broad strokes. It covers the history of Christianity from the onset of Judaism as an offshoot of earlier traditions, Christianity's beginnings as an offshoot of that, and covers its evolution not just in Western Europe, but also in Greece, Russia, Africa, Korea, and all parts of the globe where the cross is held high. It goes even further as Islam splinters from that, and the history of the Middle Eastern faiths are examined as an intertwined whole. As it goes, the reader is given another portrait to absorb as the beliefs evolve in the various corners of the globe, across time and through politics or scholarly pursuits.
In short, this is the most complete picture of Christianity that I've certainly ever encountered, and it's helped my understanding of history considerably. Special kudos not only to what it covers and why, but also how, as the outline for this book is nothing short of daunting. To cover this topic so completely is nothing short of a feat.
As one might expect, a history of this depth and magnitude will likely call into question the faith of a devout individual reading this book as not everything is as tradition holds to be true in our day and age, and as that tradition may vary depending on which sect you follow. I would challenge that the scholarly will find a great deal of wealth here, and the religiously-minded will be confronted with questions fundamental to their faith. How those questions are answered will ultimately be determined by individual willingness to see past the rigid and into the changing waters of history. Some are more readily accepting of this than others, obviously, everyone has to approach the question their own way. Being a hefty monster of a tome, however, this one is most definitely aimed at the serious scholar, regardless of the historical or spiritual approach.
Having not seen the printed book itself, I'm hoping it's full of reproductions of Caravaggio's work. Being one who has studied art, I'm familiar with many of the works described herein, but I kept having to reference my personal print library or hit up Google because descriptions of the art (while helpful) are not the art itself.
On the whole, this was merely an ok book. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either, which seems worse given my love for Caravaggio's paintings. He was an interesting guy, and the book demonstrates that at every turn. The thing is, this book is so much more than a biography, and so much less for the same reasons. The author gives us the known facts of Caravaggio's life, but it's clear that most of what's here works on assumption and extrapolation as well. We're given histories on the Church and Italy of that time, as well as depictions of cultural elements that would have defined Caravaggio in one way or another. This information, then, is applied as fuel for analysis of the given artworks, in which the author tries to glean even more information about who this artist was or wasn't. Interesting? Sure, and it's even well-written and coherent, but it's also overblown. I kept wondering how the author managed to type this book with his pinky finger at full extension. There's enthusiasm for the topic, and then there's the desire to prove you know more than you do. This book has a foot in each camp, but leans more on the latter, and that's with the narrator toning it down to tolerable levels. It might impress a newcomer to the subject matter, but it might also frighten away that same newcomer, much like listening to the overly-scholarly talk about Shakespeare. Without the need to impress (which the artwork does on its own, let's be honest here), the book could easily have been half as long and twice as engaging. Even so, it's still worth the credit if you're interested in the topic and can sift through the author's pretentiousness.
Picking up in the wake of events from the more mediocre Diamonds Are Forever, Fleming's next one in the series turns out to be one of the most heralded. It's certainly the one that really got James Bond's name out there to American audiences (thanks, JFK). But is the hype around this one worthy?
Simply put, yes. From Russia With Love brings us ever closer to the style fans associate with both Fleming and Bond. Even though we're still a few years away from the big screen version, Bond is finally developing the personality that Sean Connery would later refine and make his own. Interestingly, Bond is overshadowed whenever Karim Bey is in the story. Bey is the largest personality in the book, and Fleming had a lot of fun writing him. What's more, this is the first time we really get to spend some time with the villains without Bond being there. Bond doesn't really get any character time until chapter 11, leaving room for Fleming to show us how things are done behind closed doors at SMERSH, creating characters that would be translated more or less accurately for the film later on. The only major difference is that the film has these characters defecting from SMERSH to operate with SPECTRE, an organization that doesn't feature in the books until Thunderball.
Roger Moore once quipped that Bond was the worst secret agent because everyone knew everything about him. This may be the book that inadvertently set that stereotype into motion. This time SMERSH is out for vengeance, seeking to murder both 007 and his reputation. The setup is a bit hard to swallow, and Fleming knew it too, which is why Bond questions it right from the start. But the story is told with such enthusiasm, you really don't care once things are set into motion. That enthusiasm changes everything. After Diamonds, it's like Fleming found a renewed interest in Bond. Or it could just be that better villains make for better stories.
Toby Stephens' narration is superb, except for the offending "oh-oh-seven" pronunciation. This still bothers me, and probably always will when both Fleming and the popular culture say "double-oh seven." Even so, I'm learning to accept this is just how it's going to be. A British woman explained it to me like this: I'm an American, so I get no say, regardless of how Fleming did it, and as a Brit, whatever she says is automatically correct. Seriously, how do you argue against that?
It's been over a year since I read the first book in this trilogy (where did that time go?!). When I did my initial review, I remarked that the YA market is overcrowded with generic books dealing with mermaids (and vampires, and angels, and zombies...), and that anything that stood out would be genuinely welcome. With mermaids especially, it's almost like the subject matter leaves every writer and reader with more essence than substance. Such was the case with the first book, but... since then, the siren song started calling.
As with the first book, the lyrical writing style sets this one apart from others in its class. And just as in the first book, teenage angst is set aside in favor of real tragedy, hope, and actual story. If not for the fact the lead characters are teens, I'd believe this was more than a YA novel. Sarah Porter has tapped something dark and primal with this trilogy. The standard and expected tropes are there for the asking, but this story has pushed the boundaries of the mermaid concept about as far as anyone ever has, insofar as I'm aware. I'm pleased to say that whatever inspired me to pick up book 2 after all this time ensured that I won't wait nearly as long for book 3.
There's a conscious effort to make this more of a dramatic narrative than a biography, but that's probably not a bad way to go considering most of what we know of Van Gogh is drawn from letters between him and his brother Theo. I won't say it's 100% accurate, but the very nature of the book allows you to crawl inside the man's head. Even if you don't agree or even sympathize with him, it's the kind of perspective that allows one to better appreciate the mind behind the artwork.
When Hartley and Hewson offered their take on Macbeth, I was all over that, and I was completely enthralled by it. If you didn't know Shakespeare, it was a great in-road to discover the work. If you did, their novel was just that much better because of it. To discover they've decided to tackle Hamlet? That's no small feat, but so help me, they pulled it off admirably, and to the same effect. There are new layers and nuances to the story that Shakespeare gave us, and secondary characters are now every bit as fleshed out as the primary players. Renaissance Denmark comes to life, and subtlety is the name of the game for this version. As with Macbeth, the bard would definitely approve.
If I have anything negative at all to say about this, it's the inevitable winking and nodding to Shakespeare that's sprinkled throughout. As subtle as the story layers are, the callbacks to the bard are about as subtle as a runaway locomotive. And they aren't that frequent, so it's just a momentary jump out of the story to acknowledge the master before diving right back in. That's literally the worst thing I can claim about this, which is no bad thing.
Richard Armitage's narration is nothing less than incredible. His performance matches the storytelling in that it's layers and subtle. Hamlet, for example, is capable of being mad one moment and lucid the next, and Armitage makes it work, seemingly without effort. All of his characters are handled with such respect.
I don't know what Hartley and Hewson are pulling out of the bard's repertoire next, but I'm eagerly awaiting it.
My lack of "full" enjoyment for this book is probably a combination of factors. I'm well-versed in the idea of parallel universes and multiple versions of the same characters thanks to a lifetime of comic books, and I went through this book on the heels of a James Bond novel, which is himself a character with many different incarnations, so that helps to illustrate my mindset. So why read this one? I try to shake things up and read something "literary" every so often because I do enjoy variety. And nothing says variety quite like parallel dimensions. Imagine my disappointment when the potential of parallel universes in a novel like this is limited to the mundane and boring.
That's not to say there isn't something about this book to enjoy. As a character study, this is very well done (within its rather limited scope), until you get towards the end, at which point it disintegrates into nonsense because the author clearly hasn't read enough comic books to help her solidify what this idea might be about. High concept is one thing, but if you can't express your idea fully, regardless of medium, the idea comes across as rather pointless. This book is probably for those who aren't immersed in the fantastical and rather gimmicky nature of whatever it is the author is attempting to explore.
On those lines, I feel like the author is trying to say that this potential for all of us to have multiple versions of ourselves exist, but there is only one version that is "perfect." I find that to be extremely cynical and depressing. It's pretentious. And if I'm misinterpreting that, then Ms. Atkinson has my apologies.
For me, the shining point of this book is the writing style. Atkinson's prose is lyrical and enjoyable, but it just feels like the most beautiful voice in the world is singing the phone book. The very nature of the story is that it could go quite literally anywhere, and it goes to a great many versions of nowhere instead. This is made worse by the fact that our multiverse protagonist shoots Hitler in the opening scene. After a promising start like that, you'd think there would be something incredible in there. I didn't expect this to be an action novel, but I expected more variety from the concept. Instead, it's shades of bleh. What a letdown.
Bond returns to the States, this time to undermine the Italian mafia in a diamond scheme. From horseracing tracks to Vegas casinos, 007 faces off against nearly every bad stereotype you can expect, and Fleming hangs a lantern on it just to illustrate Bond's disgust with it. In some ways it plays out like the Hollywood gangster films of the 30s and 40s (or their Looney Tunes parodies in some scenes), and it will most certainly come across as offensive to more politically correct readers today. If that doesn't bother you, the story itself is fun, but not one of Fleming's best. Ultimately, it's a bit forgettable.
What makes it better are the other characters. Tiffany Case adds a heavy dose of tough, streetwise talk, which is an interesting counterpoint to Bond's cool British demeanor. She's quite a bit different from her on-screen counterpart, and while no less a stereotype than the mafia that employs her, she does add a little something extra to the story. Also returning is Felix Leiter, now working for the Pinkertons in the wake of his disfigurement in Live and Let Die. Villainous hitmen Wynt and Kidd are considerably less silly and stereotypical than their onscreen versions, which is quite the surprise, all things considered.
By this point in the series, 007 is developing as a character in spite of Fleming's best attempts to keep him a blank slate for the reader's cohabitation. It's easy to recognize this version of him as something Connery might have read in the early scripts before inhabiting the role. Fleming's love of food, drink, women, and cars are ever present staples of the series.
Damian Lewis is a quality narrator. He plays up Leiter's Texas accent and those of the mafia to the extreme, pushing the stereotypes about as far as you can take them. He's a bit soft spoken for Bond, which seems odd at first, but it's easy to acclimate to it and ultimately works. I knocked off a star for hitting my pet peeve when he says "oh-oh-seven." Thankfully it's not said anywhere nearly as much as in Moonraker, so it's not that great of an issue. Even so, that drives me bananas. It's "double-oh seven." Always has been, always will be.
A short story is not my idea of a worthy follow-up to Steelheart. By its very nature, it doesn't have the drive or the build that made the original a success. That said, I don't think the problem with this is the short story format. The problem is the villain. The epic known as Mitosis is a bad knock-off of Multiple Man, made worse by the character being a former pop icon with a classically-trained chip on his shoulder against the songs his old band made. It's a throwaway villain, in a throwaway story. It's ok as an idea, but it's a letdown after Steelheart. I hope this isn't a glimpse of things to come.
Nice to have MacLeod Andrews returning to narrate the series. Consistency is welcome. I only wish the story had been worth it.
The content in this book is, in a word, beautiful. Most who would seek out a book like this are either already receptive to the message or otherwise open-minded enough to digest it. Naturally, not everyone will believe it or want to. The good news is that's not one of those books about new age crystal chanting or whatever. It's about the common themes learned in past life regression and life between life therapies, which are still controversial but gaining traction in psychological practice. Whether you believe or not, the idea is compelling, and the messages are thought-provoking. Some points in this book are easier to digest than others, which is to be expected from anyone with even a hint of skepticism about them. What will likely be the most difficult thing to wrap your head around is the lack of judgment as a result of immoral action. Such things are explained, and it's on the reader to accept those explanations.
The audio quality on this title is poor, as though the author recorded this on his personal home setup. It's good enough for podcasting, but hardly professional level. Each chapter seems to have a different volume and/or distance between the speaker and the microphone. Professional filters and edits for lip smacking and tripped over words are non-existent. There are a handful of issues where the sound simply drops out and picks up a few seconds later. If I were to guess, there was one attempt to record each chapter, and the settings had to be readjusted every time. The performance is otherwise heartfelt and honest, but for all intents, this sounds like the audio equivalent of slapdash self-publishing. It's distracting in the extreme, which is a shame on any title, but more so when you feel the content deserves so much better. For spiritual seekers, it's well worth pushing past the problems to hear the messages, for only then can you know how those messages will translate on a personal level.
James Luceno has made a niche for himself in penning the stories behind the greatest villains in Star Wars history. Thanks to him, fans have crawled inside the heads of Darth Plagueis, Emperor Palpatine, and Darth Vader. At long last, the man who controlled the Death Star takes center stage.
Taking place 5 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith, this book offers both amazing insight into the buildup and workings of the Imperial war machine as well as flashbacks into the rise of Tarkin under Palapatine's guidance. Luceno builds on story points from the prequel films and The Clone Wars TV series, showing us how those events helped to shape Tarkin as a person, then driving the story forward to organically lay the groundwork for what is seen in the original trilogy. As a character study, it is a master class, and worthy of Luceno's already gifted reputation.
According to interviews I've read, Luceno revisited early Hammer films to help craft Tarkin's mannerisms and speech patterns, relying on performances from the late, great Peter Cushing. Between Luceno's writing and Euan Morton's narration, the effect is remarkable, as if Cushing is being channeled from the beyond. As a bonus, a flashback sequence with Count Dooku before the beginning of the Clone Wars offers the idea of reuniting Cushing with his friend and counterpart, Christopher Lee. Little moments like this and the little references Star Wars history add to the geek level, but the story itself is far bigger than such things. New threats and ideas are built out of the rubble from the Clone Wars, making this story worthy of a man of Tarkin's caliber.
Bottom line, this is one story that needed to be told. Whether you're a casual Star Wars fan or one dedicated to understanding the full canon, this has plenty to offer. Tarkin is unassuming at first by comparison of those like Vader or the Emperor, but his contributions to the Empire are undeniable. This book takes on the same sort of character. It starts a bit slow, and you might wonder if you really need to read it. Once the story gets going (which it does in short order), it's easy understand why Tarkin is a giant in the saga's lore.
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