I truly believe this book should be required reading for both introverts and extroverts. More than that, I wish it could be downloaded directly in the minds of many people for maximum effectiveness. Many signals and assumptions that introverts take for granted in an extroverted world are spelled out, analyzed, and made accessible for immediate understanding and integration. For extroverts, the assumptions of the world they've made are challenged, and a new perspectives are offered. The result is genius cleverly disguised as good old common sense. The playing field has been leveled quite effectively, and now the introvert has a fighting chance to proceed in everyday situations according to natural inclination without being subjected to the challenges of misunderstanding, ridicule, or low self-esteem. This book is a bridge. All that remains is for it to be utilized.
This book is wacky and wrong in so many ways, and it wouldn't be Fleming's Bond if it were any other way.
Picking up with the cliffhanger ending of From Russia With Love, M sends Bond on a "rest cure," a routine inquiry at the insistence of the American Audubon Society on behalf of some endangered birds. The location is, naturally, Jamaica and surrounding areas, Fleming's home away from home that features so prominently in the Bond lore. For Fleming, it's a working vacation site, and so it is now for Bond as well. For those readers who are more familiar with the films, it's worth noting that Dr. No is one of rare instances where the movie is largely faithful to the source material. There are a great many differences, certainly (such as the glaring absence of Felix Leiter), but the basics are here for the film to build upon later.
Since a Bond novel is all about fighting an outlandish foreign villain in the name of British superiority, let's talk about the elephant in the room that Fleming readers know so well by this point: racial stereotypes. Dr. No is largely built on the "Yellow Peril" stereotype that was so familiar to pulp readers in the 30s and 40s (i.e., Fu Manchu or Shi-Wan Khan). This includes inhabiting an island that's home to a "dragon," because... why not. While he's not a moustache-twirling, cape wearing Snydley Whiplash caricature, he does manage to improve on the "tie the girl to the railroad tracks" motif. Like Fleming's other noteworthy villains, Dr. No has the physical maladies that pinpoint his villainous status. In this case, his hands were cut off, and his heart is on the wrong side, allowing him to be shot and survive. This inevitably means he bears a grudge, has something to prove, and is hard to kill. His specialty is torture, and he embraces the fact that he's a maniac. This means that 007 is in for a particularly rough adventure. But then, isn't that supposed to be the point? Suffice it to say, Fleming has ensured that our hero faces a worthy adversary who likes to monologue. His backstory is the stuff of comic book legend. After all, it takes a special kind of crazy to convert guano into gold and use that as your cover story for the real threat.
While Honey Ryder sets the on-screen standard for the Bond girl, her print counterpart was merely the next in line of Bond's feminine leads. She's introduced without the iconic bikini (or anything else), and then Fleming manages to *ahem* flesh out her character, giving her an in-depth backstory, as though to convince you she's more than just a pretty face. And then Fleming has her throw away that advantage, setting the women's rights movement back a few decades in the process. Bond's responses to her shameless advances are surprisingly gentlemanly. Bonus points for class and character development, Mr. Bond.
It's interesting to see just how unlike Connery this version of Bond can be. In addition to treating Honey far better than she obviously wants to be treated, Bond is also considerably less brutal in this novel than what we've come to expect. That the book has so much in common with the movie by comparison of other titles in the series makes the differences stand out even more.
One of the great behind-the-scenes stories tells of how a gun expert named Boothroyd wrote a letter to Fleming, explaining to him that Bond's Beretta pistol was "a ladies' weapon," extolling the virtues of the Walther PPK as a viable alternative. Fleming was so grateful that Boothroyd became the armorer in the story, and Bond was properly outfitted with the weapon of choice that would become synonymous with him in print and on screen. That's when he starts to look like Connery in my head, which as I say, is heavily contrasted with the way he's written for the entirety of the book.
Hugh Quarshie is a fantastic choice for this book's narrator. I know him best from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Highlander, but that didn't tell me what he would bring to the table for Bond. Right up front, I was given that annoying "oh-oh-seven" pronunciation that's become something of a running gag in these reviews, but he corrected that in short order to "double-oh-seven." I immediately felt better about that, and from there it was easy to just let him run with the diverse characters of this story. He's got a smooth British voice, and he also does a convincing Jamaican accent that's needed for Quarrel. His female and Chinese characters are a bit cartoonish, but then, we've established Fleming writes them tat way too. Even so, it's evident that Quarshie had a great deal of fun performing this one. Always a plus.
I really wanted to love this book. I have a weird fascination with angels, and I love to see them in stories that aren't cookie cutter romances. Building a story off the Book of Enoch? You have my attention, but I'm looking to see if you can bring anything new to the table. This one didn't.
I also don't mind a slow burn with character development when it's done well and pacing is considered. Give me a reason to want to continue. The audiobook for this is nearly 22 hours long, and quite literally nothing happens for two thirds of it. I can't blame the narrator. Jonathan Davis is a narrator I'm quite familiar with, having had him along for the majority of the Star Wars audiobooks over the years. He's fantastic. After that long of a setup, there needs to be more than just atmosphere and setting. As realistic as it feels (which is a selling point), the accompanying choppy writing style should serve to move things along and convey a sense of urgency and storytelling. In this case it was like being stuck in traffic: hit the gas, hit the brake after 20 feet. I experience that twice a day as it is and listen to audiobooks to escape that sensation.
The other part of the problem is character. Using archetypes is a great idea for storytelling, but when you develop them, that development should actually go somewhere. I got to know these characters. They live and breathe like my next door neighbors. And like my next door neighbors, I didn't really care about any of them because nothing interesting happens for the bulk of the story. By the time the starting gun fires, the audience is too asleep to hear it. To make things worse, I've seen these characters before, all of them written better, by Victor Hugo. It's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with angels. Why didn't it work? Because Victor Hugo is an acknowledged master, and everyone knows the story even if they haven't read it. That I have read it just really makes me want to go back and read it again because (just like with movies) I find most remakes to be lazy and largely intolerable. Don't tell someone else's story. The good ones are there to revisit in all their glory, and the bad ones don't deserve a second chance. Tell your own story.
Because I do see potential here now that the setup is out of the way, I will likely return for book 2 of this trilogy, someday. I feel like now that the Hunchback section of this story is told poorly, perhaps we can move on to something more worthy. If it proves to be more of the same, I'll just drop it in favor of the next title.
If you're interested in neuroscience, this book is right up your alley. It's short, sweet, and to the point, but it's also dense as a direct result of the subject matter. But as dense as it is, the information is also explained very well. What's interesting is how most of what's found here is almost a reversal of what our culture and society have told us since the Middle Ages. In our modern world of hyper-efficiency and biohacks, this book provides some truly fascinating insight into how the brain really works.
This is the lecture series I wish existed back in high school. Prof. Conner gives us the means by which to understand the Bard on multiple levels, and at no point is he pretentious about it. The richness of the plays, the characters, the themes... it's all demystified and comes alive thanks to the tools that are offered and applied to about 2/3 of Shakespeare's repertoire.
Nobody does classic ghost stories like the Victorians. Nobody. These stories aren't necessarily scary, especially by today's standards, but they are beautifully written masterpieces by some of the greatest writers that ever dipped a pen into ink. The variety of authors and prose styles presented here is nothing less than impressive to me. I would love to see an additional anthology or two in this series just on account, because this collection just barely scratches the surface of what I know to be out there.
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.
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