Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Book Review: Founding Fathers

Aflred Duggan's 1959 novel Founding Fathers begins at the earliest days of the city of Rome, specifically the creation of a town by two brothers, Romulus and Remus and the bloody outcome of that founding (sorry for the 2700+ year spoiler!). The novel includes that fateful event, the capture of the Sabine Women, and the issues of succession after King Romulus.

What really stood out for me in this book however, was its shifting cast of protagonists, including Latins, Sabines, Etruscans, and Greeks, both used as a way to show the early days of the city from different viewpoints, and also to show how the city truly was greater than any of its individual citizens.

By following each of these characters, the strength of the city, its citizens clearly comes to the foreground. The novel moves quickly and does introduce many setting and institutions that will later play a large part in the history of what many call The Eternal City.

I found the book off of a list by David Maclaine at Historical Novels - you can see the list here, and having just spent three years reading his curated list of Ancient Greece, I found this to be a fascinating first read of the Ancient Romans, and although I'll be reading off of this list for the next four years, if Founding Fathers is any indication of the quality of books, I'm going to have a really good time with it.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Book Review: The Sun's Bride, by Gillian Bradshaw

Last month I read Gillian Bradshaw's The Sun's Bride, a novel of Rhodes in Ancient Greece and the final book in a 36-book list I'd been reading my way through for the last three years.

First of all, a big thanks to David Maclaine, for both putting together a really great list of historical novels set in Ancient Greece which cover both the Hellenic and Hellenistic periods. Secondly, a big thanks to Mr. Maclaine for following up that list with a 50-book list of historical novels covering Ancient Rome - the reading of which is my reward for finishing the first batch.

Although written before The Sand Reconner, Bradshaw's The Sun's Bride was a great way to finish off this series of books - it follows a young man named Isokrates and digs really deep into the subject of pirates in the ancient world and Rhodes business as pirate hunters. The novel has a lot of action and adventure, as well as a really great female lead in Dionysia, a character who starts out as a damsel in distress but then becomes much more interesting as the story progresses.

A really great read and if you are interested in visiting Ancient Greece through historical fiction, I can certainly vouch for the list as well.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy 2019!

 ...and here we are, another year older, another year done.

2018 was a pretty great one for me, I started work sitting on the Board of Governors for a University, finished a reading list I've been working on for three years, and helped our oldest child move into her first new home.

Although I haven't been as consistent here as I was in previous years, I wanted to take a quick moment to say thanks to everyone who still checks in and Happy New Years!

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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Book Review: The Chrysalids

A side project I've been working on in 2018 is catching up on readings books that have been sitting on my to-read shelf for years, and this year that meant getting back into John Wyndham.

I had read a number of his books during my teen years (Midwich Cuckoos, The Kraken Wakes, The Day of the Triffids, etc.) but as Wyndham wrote books from the 30s through to the 70s, I had never got to them all.

The Chrysalids (1955) follows a young man in a post-apocalyptic era wherein society has fallen back into agrarian levels. His community, a close-knit, heavily religious one, focuses on the purity of mankind and deplores any who are different. 

David, our main character, is the son of a local leader, and has a pretty big secret - he's telepathic. This allows him to pass as human, but if anyone were to ever find out, it would certainly mean his death, and likely that of his family as well.

Having now read through Wyndham's earlier work (and some of it has some pretty big problems), part of what I think really works in the novel is the use of David as a our first person narrator, rather than simply have him as the protagonist - seeing the world through David's eyes as a child and becoming a young man made the book much more immersive for me and I think kept the writer much more on task.

A great read and a wonderful introduction into science fiction if you happen to be looking.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Book Review: Dark Matter

Last month I read Blake Crouch's Dark Matter for one of my book clubs, as a selection by my friend Ron. The novel (which I really enjoyed), follows Jason Desson, a college physics professor, who, after being kidnapped, wakes up in a strange new world, one where he is not married, not a father, and is instead a world renowned physicist. He's wealthy, well regarded and lives in an amazing version of his old home, and somehow, he's managed to create a door (spoilers follow) between worlds.

The book follows Jason as he attempts to reconcile his new life with his old and eventually, tries to leave it all together. As a story it follows an action/science fiction plot, and I imagine that if I hadn't seen a number of dimension-hopping stories before (Sliders, Ring Around the Sun, etc.), it may have took me a little longer to see where the novel was headed.

The book is quite engrossing, keeping up a really great pace and if you are not as familiar with this sub-genre of science fiction, it could be a gateway novel to a lot of really fun reads. It had a number of set pieces that worked extremely well (including the climax) and definitely has me interested in reading more from the author.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Book Review: We Sold Our Souls

So back in 2016 I happened across a copy of Grady Hendrix's My Best Friend's Exorcism in my local book store and after reading it was delighted to find a new voice in the horror genre that felt like a bridge between YA horror and the adult stuff.

A few months later I tried his first book Horrorstor and although I didn't like it as much, I loved the layout and design of the book and there were some really great bits in it that I saw coming more together with My Best Friend's Exorcism.

Finally, last year I read his non-fiction work Paperbacks from Hell and I have to say it ranks quite high in my favourite non-fiction about the horror genre.

So last weekend when a copy of his latest, We Sold Our Souls came into my local library I was thrilled to dig right in. And three days and 330 pages later - I absolutely loved it.

The book follows a has-been heavy metal guitarist named Kris who begins the book in a dead-end job in a small town, and on a quick side-note, I was thrilled the lead of this story was a woman in her mid-forties, rather than a nineteen year old kid - I'm always happy to read coming of age stories, but shake it up a little people!

The story moves from small town nightmare to the truly epic and does it with a great love of the music it glorifies. It bounces from humour to terror to gross-out horror and back again, and honestly, I simply couldn't put it down.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Book Review: The Sand Reckoner

The next-to-last book on my survey of Ancient Greece through historical fiction was Gillian Bradshaw's The Sand Reckoner (2000). The novel tells the story of Archimedes of Syracuse, the inventor most famous these days for the whole water displacement discovery (Eureka!).

The book begins with a young Archimedes returning home from Alexandria to Syracuse which is in a war with Rome. A mathematical genius, Archimedes hopes to find work as an engineer for the city and perhaps help out his family, and very quickly his value to the city becomes apparent to its current tyrant, Hiero, a surprisingly positive example of the type of leader we classify as a tyrant today.

The story parallels it's main narrative with that of Marcus, Archimedes personal slave, and for me, the much more engaging character in the story. Archimedes is interesting, but so in-his-own-head, it can sometimes be frustrating to watch him. Marcus, on the other hand, is much more aware of the world around him, both in terms of the city itself and the larger world.

I had never read Gillian Bradsahw before and honestly just loved this book, it reminded me a little of L. Sprague de Camp's The Arrows of Hercules (1965), but I found it much more engaging.

I'm really looking forward to next month when i complete my list and get to do it with another of Bradshaw's books!