When you read the longer history tomes, be they about a specific period or maybe a larger overview, the minutae of what goes into siege warefare is usually glossed over with broad strokes. This book is for all of you armchair historians and fantasy gamers out there who want details. This book talks about everything from the weapons and baggage train to the roles of women and the digging of underground tunnels. The more you know about the general history and politics of a given era, the more you'll appreciate the details, but ultimately it's really not necessary as those broad strokes are provided as a reverse of most other history books.
The author postulates the idea that the legend of the Borgias has trumped scholarship for the last 500 years, and that the real story is far more interesting. That's always a great setup for a good narrative history, isn't it? If any family in history has been the recipient of bad press, it's the Borgia family. Corruption, blackmail, incest... the crimes perpetuated in the Borgia name know no bounds, made more sensational by the fact that the guy pulling the strings sat on the Papal throne. But is that reputation deserved?
Meyer did such a great job tackling the Tudor dynasty, I couldn't help but be drawn to this one. Admittedly, almost every text I've ever read on the Borgias fits the stereotype of what the author describes as the problem, and I do find his scholarship to be fascinating in the extreme. The book is so carefully laid out that the political backdrop for Rodrigo's rise to power takes up the first 8 hours out of a 20 hour presentation. It's so intricate by comparison of nearly everything else in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and yet so easy to follow with Meyer's expert guidance. It makes me wish I had this book years ago when I first dipped my toes into Renaissance history. Once the dominoes are put in place, the Papal crown is placed on Rodrigo's head, and from there more dominoes are put into place every bit as fast as the ones in play start falling. It's easy to understand why this is one of those stories that gets out of control quickly.
The Borgias may never escape their legend, but Meyer's account truly is compelling, starting with the claim, supported by recently uncovered Vatican records, that Rodrigo was elected pope fair and square, unanimously. This is the sort of spin you'll find here, and the story only unfolds from there, systematically dispelling myths and verifying truths one by one. If I were making a wish list, I would want Meyer to give us companion volumes for the Medici and Sforza lines. Such tales naturally intersect and are touched upon here, but the Borgia focus of the book does taper the narrative point of view a little bit. That's probably for the best since the total story from all sides would probably be a massive rodent killer of a book. Even so, I want that book. This one is a great start.
I'm fairly well-versed on the Crusades. The thing is, most volumes on that era don't cover the Spanish side of the story because the Reconquest begins centuries before the Crusades "officially" begin. This book seemed to be the perfect companion to fill in that gap.
And it might be... once I get another book to tell me who's who and explain why they're important. I also apparently need to find an historical map to keep up with where these unknown characters travel. The author is a noted historian and has written several books on this topic, which was part of the appeal for me. But he's apparently forgotten that overviews are supposed to be introductions. Instead of a narrative history with people at the center of causes and effects, this book is that dreaded textbook of names and dates that mean nothing if you don't already have that information in hand.
Based on what little I could follow (because I know something about El Cid... thank you, Charleton Heston), this book isn't designed for the audio format at all. It pretty much demands that you at least have your Wiki-scholar skills and Google Fu well-honed. But if I wanted to go that route, I wouldn't have picked up this book.
The narrator is clear enough, which is good when dealing with rapid-fire onslaughts of foreign names, but he butchers some of the French names and reads a bit mechanically for my tastes.
All in all, not exactly the best possible combination for a book like this.
If you've only seen the movie, you don't know Moonraker. There's virtually nothing in common beyond the name and villain's name, which is understandable given the immediate post-WWII framework. It's also considerably less silly than the movie, which isn't really hard to do. I love Roger Moore, but this is most certainly not the Moore-era 007. In this original version, the Moonraker is a modified V2 rocket with a nuclear warhead, the perfect centerpiece for an early Cold War era novel.
The first third of the book is Bond battling Hugo Drax at the card table, but unlike in Casino Royale, Bond has rigged the game, we know it, and it's all about watching him unleash his brand of rough justice. There's virtually zero suspense to it, and there doesn't have to be. It's written so well, I just had a stupid grin on my face the whole time. From there, Bond is put in Drax's midst at the last minute to shore up security on the Moonraker, the story unfolding with the hallmarks of Fleming's style. That is to say, Fleming has developed his way of telling the story; Bond himself is still undergoing no development into something resembling his big screen counterpart. We're still books away from that. And yet, it somehow doesn't matter. Bond still manages to come across as the Bond we know. Maybe it's because it's book 3, so I've grown accustomed to Fleming's version, or maybe it's because we've had so many interpretations of the character over the years that slipping into a different version just gets easier.
Bill Nighy is a good narrator. Not one I would have expected, but he worked well. The only thing that perpetually bugged me was the pronunciation of "00," as in "007" or any of the other numbered agents referred to herein. Fleming spells it out frequently as "double-oh," but when only using the code numbers, Nighy says "oh-oh," as I've heard other narrators and commentators do. If that sort of thing bugs you like it does me, then the good news is it only happens towards the beginning and end of the book. It's a minor point, but it feels so wrong, especially when Fleming points it out in every book. Even in the movies, only one guy says "oh-oh," and he was an enemy agent who clearly didn't know better. Beyond that, Nighy clearly had a good time with this, just as he says in the short interview at the end. I could tell he had quite a bit of fun with Drax and several of the minor roles.
The first thing to know about this book is how racially stereotyped and offensive it is, being a product of its time. On the plus side, Fleming is an equal-opportunity offender. Everyone gets a crack at being insulted, and nobody seems to notice within the confines of the story.
The books is quite a bit different from the film version, with elements of it being strewn across a handful of films. The main villain, Mr. Big, is a great deal more impressive than his screen counterpart, and his reputation as the zombie of Baron Semadi is actually rather inspired when the Voodoo cult is compared to the superstitions and culture of the Celtic people as Bond points out.
All in all, it's an uncomfortable read, but if you can square away the modern perceptions of what you find here (good luck with that), then it's still an enjoyable story. Bond is still very much in development here, so some of his character may surprise new readers.
Rory Kinnear gives an outstanding performance as narrator. Playing up a multicultural character set with so many "problems" might seem difficult, but his delivery is authentic and professional, or at least it was to me. Kudos to him.
Meditation is easy to learn and easy to begin... in theory. It's quite possibly the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life, which is why I was eager to have a longer course like this one. I've done this sort of thing off and on for years, and I've seen the benefits of it for myself. But my physical restlessness and my "monkey mind" have always been my worst enemies. This course breaks everything down slowly and thoroughly. Everything you need is here, and there is plenty of advice concerning props or environments to go along with it for those who wish for that that.
The hard part is still actually meditating. It's just not as daunting as it used to be.
America's first native fairy tale / ghost story is once again retold, and it's a great way to jumpstart the Halloween season as far as I'm concerned. This version is narrated by Tom Mison, who plays Ichabod Crane on TV's Sleepy Hollow. That version has virtually nothing in common with its source material apart from some names. The classic version has a decidedly much better writer, but I'm biased as this has always been one of my favorites growing up. Mison is an excellent narrator for this, capturing the old world feel of the tale perfectly.
For those new to the story, the thing to remember is that this is an old ghost story, and all that implies. It's all about setting the mood and leaving you with questions. It's not "complete" by modern standards, but by the standards when it was written, it's just about perfect.
Many a Tolkien fan knows that Middle Earth was forged by the fires of World War I. Some of the Tolkien scholars out there will even know a great deal about what's in this book. But what will separate this book from others is witnessing how Middle Earth evolves in parallel to Tolkien's life and service during the war. Sometimes that evolution is followed line by line, such is the detail level of this volume. Literary geeks, this book's for you.
Casual fans will likely find this book to be easy to follow, but too in-depth for their tastes. If you're one of the 3% of uber-fans who own, understand, and even recite The Silmarillion, you may be on your way to sharing a drink with the author. I personally fall somewhere in between as someone who appreciates the world and its evolution at all levels, loves the history, but often finds it overwhelming at the same time. That's part of why I love it, precisely because it is challenging and welcoming at the same time. For me, this book offered some incredible insight into the creative process and filled in a number of gaps in what I thought I already knew. Regardless on where you stand in your geekdom, it would be next to impossible to walk away from this book without having learned something new and deeply personal.
This is one of those books, however, where the narration is average, just average, really average. It's not bad, just lifeless, which is often the biggest criticism I have when an author reads the work themselves. Some can do it well, most can't or simply don't. In a way, it actually fits, seeing as how Tolkien's readings of his own work were equally as lifeless. I can say that because I've actually heard a couple of recordings, and it sounded like he couldn't wait to break away from the audience and return to world-building. Back to the point, a narrator that doesn't sound like a first-time news reporter would be a welcome addition to a work like this.
When AudioGo first announced this round of new recordings a couple of years ago, I was manic to have them. I own copies of the original Simon Vance recordings from my pre-Audible days, which are phenomenal, but being the Bond fan that I am, I'm always curious to see what others can bring to the table. Then I found out these new recordings weren't available outside of the UK, and my heart sank. I prayed Audible would bring them to me.
At last, my prayers have been answered, and wouldn't you know, I had to hunt for them. Instead of referring to them by their official series name of "007 Reloaded," they're called "celebrity performances." Well, by any other name, it means my 2 credits a month are dedicated for the next few months (barring Star Wars releases), and not being independently wealthy, I can't afford to spring for them all at once as I'd like to do. Curses, foiled again.
Be that as it may, I have begun the series, and I'm over the moon impressed with this new performance by Dan Stevens. He impressed me with his work on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and his work here is every bit as nuanced and incredible. I almost wish he could do the rest of them too, but the point is to have a variety of talent for this series, so I'm looking forward to riding that wave. As many times as I've gone through the original novels, I'm still not as familiar with them as I am the films, and this provides the perfect excuse for me to dive in again and live with them for a while.
For those new to the original Fleming novels, this is a great introduction to the series. You almost have to forget what you've seen on screen and take Bond in his original cold war context, but thanks to the recent Daniel Craig films coming closer to Fleming's work, the in-road to the classic version has never been friendlier. It might take some getting used to Bond using a Beretta instead of the Walther PPK, or driving a Bentley instead of the Aston Martin, but the core of everything that is Bond starts here and evolves into what we've come to know and love throughout the series. Fleming's incredible detail brings these stories to life at every level, from Bond's scoping the room for signs of intrusion and tampering, to food and drink, to the gambling tables, to the torture sequences, and beyond. It's visceral in a way that can only come happen thanks to practical, real world experience. That's what separates Bond from his world of knock-offs and wanna-be copycats. Setting the standard of all that's come before and all that will come to be in the action/spy genre, regardless of medium, there's only one name you need to know. The name's Bond. James Bond.
The first question anyone would likely ask is, "Why did you read this book?" A fair question. I like to consider myself open-minded enough to read a great many things. I'm constantly comparing religions and mythologies, both as a spiritually-minded type and as a writer who never knows where the next idea will come from. When I was 8, I found rituals on how to become a werewolf, and I've been looking at stuff like this for the sheer fun of it ever since. That said, I was rather intrigued by the title and book description. Having known my fair share of both old world witches and modern wiccans of a variety of different religious flavors, I feel confident that I'm at least conversational in these circles, and this aroused my curiosity.
With apologies to the modern practitioners who will buy it completely, and I'm sure some will get plenty out of this, I found the ideas far better than the rituals themselves. It's a personal bias, obviously, but I'm forced to wonder why old world plant spirits would want be summoned through English rhyme given everything that humanity has done to scorch our planet. Offering 3 drops of blood just doesn't really seem enough. Or maybe I've read too many Batman comics featuring Poison Ivy. Who can say? Either way, this is hardly the complex high magick of Solomon and his lesser keys. Is it old world witchery? Not even remotely close, unless your idea of "old world" is 1954. Read enough books on any given topic, and you learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, expert or not. It seems to me that changing the primal points of Gardnerian Wicca to something that seems even more primal (and probably isn't) does not an ancient magickal system make. But it does line up with some of the new age stuff I've seen from the Gardnerian camp. Don't get me wrong, it's an interesting new coat of paint, but that's essentially all it is. The idea behind all of this, being respect of the planet and its bounties, is a good one for spiritual philosophers to ponder. And the rest is a pretty decent grab bag for writing prompts. Having recently gone back through Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, it puts me in mind of the Ents, just on perhaps a smaller scale.
Following on the success of his previous Star Wars offering, Kenobi, and in conjunction with the newly-formed Lucasfilm Story Group, John Jackson Miller throttles us forward from the end of the prequel era and into the Dark Times, the largely uncharted territory between trilogies. The Clone Wars are over. The Empire has risen. The surviving Jedi are in hiding, hunted by Darth Vader and his minions. The management style of the day is subjugation, murder, and wanton destruction. And there are some people in the galaxy who truly see what's going on, and they can't just lie down and take it like "good citizens."
This book takes place some 6 years before the events of the upcoming Star Wars: Rebels animated series, which itself will take place 5 years before the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. In other words, 8 years after Revenge of the Sith, and 11 years before A New Hope, squarely in the midst of the worst time the galaxy has ever suffered.
The story here covers the first encounter of our newest heroes, Jedi Kanan Jarrus and freedom fighter Hera Syndulla (perhaps related to Clone Wars era fighter Cham Syndulla?) as the Rebellion begins in the form of small, isolated cells. It also provides our first look at the new era of Star Wars, wherein everything is officially canon, so in this regard it's a New Dawn in more ways than one.
Although Kanan and Hera are most definitely at the forefront, their first adventure gives us a supporting cast as strong, rich, and three-dimensional as any that Miller has offered in the past. From the conspiracy theorizing Skelly to the Imperial monster Count Vidian (who is a most worthy addition to the Star Wars villains list), the supporting cast give us a very close look at what ordinary life is like under Palpatine's Empire... and what it means to rebel against it.
Kanan and Hera themselves seem to have the banter we've seen in the preview videos already intact, harkening back to the classic days of Han Solo and Princess Leia. It's that kind of dynamic, without being a carbon copy of it. With them, they bring along all of the adventure and swashbuckling we've come to know since 1977. I was excited for Rebels before. Now I'm chomping at the bit for it.
The audio production is as high quality as any of the offerings from the Star Wars camp in recent years. Veteran narrator Marc Thompson plays the roles to the hilt, and the subtle additions of John Williams theme music and those famous sound effects are dropped in to add that extra layer of awesome you just don't get from most audiobooks.
If everything that's been hinted at is true, this animated series will not only tie the trilogies together, but it will eventually play on themes offered from Clone Wars and offer some new threads to be continued in the upcoming Episode VII. As a fan, that's simply too hard to resist. The future looks bright ahead, and this book is the on-ramp.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.