After a hiatus of a few years, I've recently begun reviewing the Mandarin I previously learned. I purchased this book-and-recordings set for this purpose. Compared to what I have used in the past and what is presently available in the mass market, this set is a good solid beginning to what could be later excellent editions. A higher rating would've been easily possible if some simple quality control measures were exercised.
I agree with the previous comments that this set is better suited to the intermediate student, in large part because the grammar section gives sparse treatment to the topics it covers. The book stands out in its use of contemporary--yet grammatically correct--dialogue. Also, many of the recordings are quite good in further developing the intermediate student's ear for the distinct tones used in Mandarin.
However, some weaknesses impede the learning process. The book's glossary is missing many of the words used in the lessons. This can be a problem when you're stymied by a word used in a current lesson but was introduced in an earlier one. Unless you remember the lesson in which it was introduced, you'll need a dictionary nearby. Second, if you're looking up the Mandarin word for "grateful" you won't find it under "g"; you'll find it under "b" for "be grateful." This holds for other predicate adjectives listed in the glossary. Although this is common in many Chinese texts, native English speakers don't use a glossary this way. The better texts avoid this oversight. Third, some translations miss the mark; e.g., "bu gandang" is more properly translated to "you're too polite" rather than "thank you." Knowing the difference is important in Chinese culture, especially in corporate settings. Again, texts that have undergone better quality control make this distinction.
Some comments about the cassette tapes: The female voices and one of the male voices are excellent. Their well-articulated speech goes far in training the ear to recognize words and their meanings. However, gabble dominates one of the male voices (perhaps two--I can't discern whether there is another, third male voice). This particular male voice sounds like a student reading text. The frequent result is rushed, inarticulate speech. Slowing the speech down (my cassette player is able to do this) is of little help--the "run-on" words and slurring simply become more apparent.
My last criticism of the tapes regards the repeated dialogue. After the dialogue is initially spoken at a normal pace, it is repeated again with pauses deliberately inserted, apparently to encourage the student to repeat the dialogue. The repeated dialogue is not created by having the speakers "re-speak" it. It is done simply by inserting pauses in the initial recorded dialogue. Two problems result: First, except for the effect of the pauses, the repeated dialogue is just as fast and, in some cases, just as inarticulate, as is the initial dialogue. Second, the pauses are often inserted in unnatural places--sometimes between a word. This is because the speakers don't "re-speak" the dialogue with extended pauses. In other words, the natural pauses that exist in natural speech could have been easily lengthened. Instead the authors chose to simply repeat the first dialogue and insert breaks here and there. These unnatural pauses conflict with the way we learn because when we hear speech, we absorb (or attempt to absorb) chunks of full meanings and concepts, not partial ones. So when the student repeats a truncated phrase, he doesn't really know what he is uttering because the phrase's meaning is incomplete.
Despite these weaknesses, this is a good text-and-recordings set, one of the better ones available in the mass market. The three stars I've rated it is not meant to compare it to what is currently available in the market, but rather reflect its shortcomings against what is possible.