Thunderball (James Bond #4)

ThunderballThunderball
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Coming off the huge success of Goldfinger, the fourth Bond film had the unenviable task of following it a year later with high expectations.  Based upon the eighth Bond novel by Ian Fleming which was itself a novelization of a unfilmed screenplay, Thunderball was a mixture quality action sequences and slow pacing that created just a bit of a letdown from the franchise’s previous installment.

After killing a high ranking SPECTRE operative, James Bond is recuperating at sanitarium where he unknowingly interactions with SPECTRE agents that are beginning the organization’s latest project of stealing two atomic bombs and ransoming NATO.  After the successful theft of the bombs, Bond is called to London for an emergency 00 conference and after looking at the dossier, convinces M to send him to Nassau.  Soon after his arrival, Bond meets SPECTRE’s Number Two Emilio Largo who masterminded the operation and arouses Bond’s suspicions.  Bond joined by Felix Leiter and MI6 agents in the Bahamas begins searching for the missing NATO plane while also playing a cat-and-mouse game with Largo and various SPECTRE agents.  Upon finding the missing plane and confirming Largo has them, Bond along with U.S. Coast Guard divers battle SPECTRE off the shore of Miami to secure one bomb.  Then infiltrating Largo’s ship, Bond is able to stop the man’s attempt to get away with the last bomb.

While Thunderball was the most financially successful Bond film until Live and Let Die, comparing it to earlier films and looking at it critically there were significant issues that affected the overall presentation.  The first and most importantly was the pacing at the beginning of the film, especially when Bond was in the sanitarium.  The slow beginning could have been tightened in numerous ways while not losing important plot developments.  The second were the numerous underwater sequences, save the battle off Miami, which simply took too much time each without equal story development.  Connery’s performances was once again top notch, Adolfo Celi’s Emilio Largo was an impressive villain, and Luciana Paluzzi’s femme fatale Fiona Volpe were stand out performances throughout the film.  But the highlight and most memorable part of the film was the climatic underwater battle, which was skillfully choreographed.

Thunderball, while not close to mediocre, doesn’t not compare to its predecessor.  While unfortunately dragged down by a slow beginning, the great acting and a fantastic climactic battle makes this a solidly good film.

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Goldfinger (James Bond #3)

GoldfingerGoldfinger
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goldfinger, the third film of the Sean Connery era truly changed the James Bond franchise.  Based on the seventh novel by Ian Fleming of the same name, this film built up on the momentum of the previous two and added the final motifs related to the franchise in becoming the quintessential James Bond film.

James Bond begins an investigation of bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger in Miami, at first observing and then upsetting his cheating scheme at a game of gin rummy which has deadly consequences for a recently met love interest.  Back in London, Bond learns that Goldfinger is suspected of smuggling gold internationally and is task to figure out how he does it.  After playing (and defeating) Goldfinger in a game of golf, Bond follows Goldfinger and his henchman Oddjob to Switzerland where he discovers how Goldfinger smuggles his gold as well as a meeting with a Chinese agent.  However, Bond is captured and set up to be cut in half by a industrial laser but saves himself by lying about MI6 knowing about his plan with the Chinese agent.  Goldfinger brings Bond to Kentucky, where on the surface he is setting up an operation to steal all the gold in Fort Knox but in fact it is to make it radioactive by setting off a dirty bomb.  Bond “persuades” Goldfinger’s personal pilot, Pussy Galore, to notify the FBI and Army about the attack and interrupt it through Bond is locked in the vault with the bomb and Oddjob.  Bond is able to electrocute Oddjob then struggled to disarm the bomb only for a nuclear specialist to arrive and turn it off.  The film ends with Bond on a flight to Washington when Goldfinger comes out of the cockpit, but the resulting gun battle sees Goldfinger sucked out of plane due to explosive decompression while Bond and Pussy parachute safety to some secluded woods.

Though my synopsis of the plot is pretty basic, Goldfinger’s was clearly the best of these early Bond films.  With a mix of action, espionage, and various locations, the plot was tight allowing both Connery and Gert Frobe (playing the titular Goldfinger) to deliver great performances with the latter’s becoming the standard future Bond villains would be measured.  This film completed the motifs that would define the franchise: the Bond theme songs introduced over the title sequence began with the classic “Goldfinger” sung by Shirley Bassey, the Bond quote “Shaken, not stirred” was first spoken in this film, and Bond’s heavy reliance on technology.

Goldfinger is considered the classic installment of the franchise, in fact because of its huge success in 1964 that its script would be the template for films to come as well the reliance on technology that would be overused in installments to come.  However, neither of those factors takes away the luster of his film which is always in discussion for the best in the entire franchise even 50+ years later.

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Thud! (Discworld #34, Watch #7)

Thud!Thud! by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Whenever long bloody feud between dwarfs and trolls heats up the cry, “Koom Valley”, springs up just before both sides decide to fight the next one but now it looks like it’s in Ankh-Morpork but not on Sam Vimes watch. Thud! is the 34th installment of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and seventh in the “Watch” subseries focusing Sam Vimes pursuing culprits across the Ankh-Morpork and beyond to bring them to justice, no matter the species.

A dwarf demagogue is killed and a troll is the only witness, all of this as the anniversary of the Battle of Koom Valley is approaching with tensions in Ankh-Morpork between dwarfs and trolls reaching a boiling point. After Sam Vimes learns that the murder was supposed to be hidden from him, he leaps to action to solve the murder as well as not sending both species into war. Unfortunately Vimes has to contend with a new vampire member of the Watch, an auditor, and always making it home by 6 to read to Young Sam. And then the case begins to involve mystical elements, really annoying Vimes especially as they travel to Koom Valley in pursuit of justice.

Although the overall plot was well thought out, especially concerning Vimes there were problems. The various secondary arc, the humor, and quality of writing were noticeably not up to Pratchett’s earlier standards and ranged from bad to passable.

Although Thud! isn’t the best of Pratchett’s work nor the best in the Watch series, it is still a good read for any fan.

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Discworld

Romans: Salvation for “All”

RomansRomans: Salvation for All by George R Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Epistle of Romans is the most evangelistic book of the New Testament as the Apostle Paul gave to the church in Rome and every reader since a the best explanation of the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. George R. Knight’s commentary Romans: Salvation for “All” not only gives the background of the book, but also a clarification of what Paul means throughout his multi-layered sermon. Meant to be read alongside the Epistle, in which the reader can examine the Old Testament verses that Paul quotes extensively, this commentary allows the reader a deeper and all-encompassing understanding of the message that Paul is giving the reader in its correct context. An excellent book that comes in at only 127 pages.

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The Daughter of Time (Alan Grant #5)

TeyThe Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Scotland Yard detective is recovering in hospital with a broken leg and needs his mind distracted, what eventually gets him moving is the quandary on why the portrait of the reprehensible Richard III looked so different from the constructed popular history. In her 1950 Alan Grant mystery, The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey has her veteran detective investigate the mystery of the Princes of the Tower and if Richard instigated their deaths.

In a brief summary of the plot, a recovering and bedbound Alan Grant is battling boredom when his friend Marta Holland suggests he research a historical mystery. Knowing his love of reading faces, she sends him portraits of various individuals and he becomes intrigued with one of Richard III. Through the help of friends, acquaintances, and young American researcher Brent Carradine, Alan gathers information and tests out theories. After weeks of work and logical thinking, Alan comes to the conclusion that Richard did not murder his nephews and his bad reputation the result of Tudor propaganda.

Coming in at a brisk 206 pages, Tey’s novel is a quick paced mystery that doesn’t get bogged down in details that many non-history geared readers might feel intimidated with. However, for those seasoned history readers there are some problems with the book that come to the fore. Tey’s arguments in support of Richard and her theory (though Alan) that Henry VII murdered the Princes are not rock solid especially as pointed out by other authors like Alison Weir though in other areas Tey bests Weir even with a 40+ year difference between their publications and new primary sources that Tey didn’t have. There are other little mistakes, like calling the Buckingham conspiracy the Dorset-Morton plot, or completely ignoring the before mentioned Buckingham has a plausible suspect (though Paul Murray Kendall would do that a few years later).

Overall The Daughter of Time is a quick, enjoyable read that will either make you think about things more critically or simply think of it as a nice plot device.

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Richard the Third by Paul Murray Kendall
The Princes of the Tower by Alison Weir

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive #2)

WoRWords of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The world of Roshar thought it had survived its great cataclysm four millennia ago, but days are slowly counting down for when the next Desolation begins. Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy series’ second installment, Words of Radiance, brings numerous characters together in the middle of the Shattered Plains as Roshar faces the beginning of the apocalypse as well the rebirth of it’s great heroic warriors that fought to save life.

Although the four main characters are once again front and center, but unlike the previous The Way of Kings it is Shallan Davar who dominates the majority of the book’s narrative either through her own point-of-view, flashbacks, or through the eyes of other major characters. Shallan and Jasnah are headed to the Shattered Plains by ship when it is attacked, Jasnah murdered, and Shallan dissolves the ship to save the crew and herself using her recently discovered Radiant abilities. Shallan continues to learn her new abilities as she travels through the Frostlands towards the Shattered Plain meeting several interesting people including Kaladin and the ringleader of Jasnah’s killers then takes her place as the agent of the group that killed her to learn what they know of the things Jasnah has been studying. Once at the warcamps, Shallan juggles multiple balls that eventually leads her out into the Plains at a critical moment to save the Atheli army.

Kaladin, Dalinar, and Adolin take up the vast majority of the rest of the book, essentially interacting a lot with one another or with Shallan once she gets to the camps. Kaladin’s is the major secondary arc of the book as he transforms the bridge crews into a guard force to protect Dalinar and his family while also continuing to deal with his issues with lighteyes and the responsibilities of his Radiant powers. Using his new position as Highprince of War, Dalinar along with Adolin attempt to combat the political intrigue of Sadeas and attempt to end the war either through peace or crushing the Parshendi in battle. Interlaced throughout the book are interludes that were dominated by the Parshendi general Eshonai and the Assasin in White, Szeth, whose own arcs help give an epic feel to the overall story while adding to the book’s main narrative flow.

While the length of The Way of Kings and the repetitive descriptions during scenes were my main complaint, Sanderson’s Words of Radiance were and wasn’t the same. The length of the second book is something to give pause (1300+ pages), the repetitive descriptions during the same scenes were cut out and narrative replaced it. Honestly, with more narrative then descriptions the length of the book becomes less noticeable especially once you’re a quarter of the way through the book but it’s always in the back of your mind.

Overall Words of Radiance is a very good book, building upon and improving over its predecessor and setting up anticipating for the read to see where Brandon Sanderson is going to take this series next.

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The Way of Kings

They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims

MilbrandtThey Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims by Jay Milbrandt
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

One of the enduring founding myths of the United States is the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, and like all myths it was based on true events that were warped as time passed. They Came for Freedom by Jay Milbrandt explores how and why the Pilgrims came to the shores of Cape Cod as well on how they survived when other settlements failed.

The arrest and trial of one Henry Barrow, who defied the Anglican Church’s version of Christianity and maybe the authority of Queen Elizabeth by his dissent, the story of the Separatists who would eventually become the Pilgrims begins. Milbrandt followed the Pilgrims narrative through London, a small village in Nottinghamshire, to the Netherlands, and then across the Atlantic to Cape Cod. But alternating with that of the Pilgrims was the biography of Squanto, whose own life and adventures before the landing of the Mayflower led to him being a pivotal individual for the success of New Plymouth. Once the Pilgrims had landed, Milbrandt merged the two narratives together in a very readable detailed history that went up until the fall of 1623. Although Milbrandt continued his history until 1646, the last 20 years was just a glimpse of tidbits of historical importance.

At around 225 pages of text, Milbrandt’s efforts are particularly good considering that his primary sources were few and even those were slanted to give the colony of Plymouth a good impression. Although several historical inaccuracies did appear, they were mostly naming conventions and not detrimental to the overall book.

While short, They Came for Freedom is a good general history that gives the reader a sense of the real events that later became mythologized in American culture and folklore. Overall it’s a nice, readable book about a topic most American know little able.

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