Sunday, March 31, 2019

Book Review: Ship of Rome, by John Stack

John Stack's 2009 novel, and first in his "Masters of the Sea" series is Ship of Rome, which takes place at the beginning of the First Punic War (Rome vs. Carthage) and follows two men, the captain of a pirate-hunting ship named Atticus and his friend Septimus (leader of the ship's marines). Much of the first book moves back and forth between the two men's world views (Atticus is of Greek descent and seen basically as a second class citizen throughout, while Septimus is a member of an old Roman family and resents his work on a ship rather than the work with the legions he began his career in).

The novel follows the two men through the initial outburst of the war and was pretty fun overall; there were romance subplots and a pair of senators who duel for control of the early republic, but the book really stands out in the depiction of naval war, yes there re some anachronisms (specifically the use of slave galley's for the era), but the scenes are pretty action packed and the tension gets quite high throughout.

Well worth the read and it definitely has me looking forward to the sequel.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Book Review: Roma, by Steven Saylor

One of four rereads for me on David MacClaine's list of 50 Historical Fiction novels set in Ancient Rome, I read Roma a few years back when I was reading Saylor's mystery fiction following his character Gordianus the Finder.

Roma takes place over more than 1000 years, from the earliest days of what would become Rome but was simply a good place to find salt, through its time as a trading post, a city, a kingdom, and eventually the Republic. The novel is basically eleven interconnected short stories following the ups and downs of a family line while also showing how Rome as a city grew over time.

As a follow up to Alfred Duggan's Founding Fathers, it gives a nice overview of where the first half of this fifty book list is going to cover, and also does a nice job of giving a flavour to the setting, but shying away from one simple character we get to follow priests, leaders, warriors, slaves, vestal virgins, and more, giving a much more complex picture that one protagonist could have given us.

A great way to introduce yourself to both the subject matter and Saylor's work (of which I'm a pretty big fan), Roma is an excellent read and well worth your time.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Movie Review: Us

Like a lot of people, I took some time this weekend to check out Us, Jordan Peele's follow up to his 2017 film Get Out.

Us is the story of the Wilsons, Adelaide, Gabe, Zora, and Jason, and the family vacation they take that goes terribly, horribly wrong. If you've seen the trailer, you can see the basic concept - what if your home was invaded... by you? One of the creepiest (and most effective) aspects of the film is the fact that both the protagonists and the antagonists are played by the same actors, and leads Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke are both really great playing both regular folk and their own terrifying reflections.

Without going into spoilers, I'll say the film was a lot of fun, kept me on the edge of my seat, and is my current front-runner for favourite film of 2019 (although to be fair I love horror and it is only March).

Well worth seeing, but bring a friend, you wouldn't want just yourself for company, not for this film.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Book Review: Hazards of Time Travel, by Joyce Carol Oates

So I picked up Joyce Carol Oates Hazards of Time Travel simply because I liked the title and I'd enjoyed her 1995 novel Zombie. The book starts in a dystopian future and follows a young woman named Adriane Strohl through her last few days of high school and her subsequent imprisonment in a University in 1959 Wisconsin.

On the surface, the book felt a lot like 12 Monkeys to me, wherein our protagonist is punished by being sent somewhere that is arguably better than where they came from. Are there problems? Absolutely, Oates has found a great way to highlight the negatives of late '50s America by showing it as a University based on blandness, everyone working hard to be consistently forgettable. Renamed Mary Ellen, Adriane stumbles through her first year learning and relearning exactly how closed off America was during the period and for me, some of the greatest strengths of the book come from the character study of Mary Ellen/Adriane, rather than the dystopian future or the science of the time travel.

An interesting read that left me with more questions than answers, but honestly, isn't that what we want from speculative fiction?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Book Review: Someone Like Me, by M.R. Carey

My fourth novel by Carey in the last three years, Someone Like Me is a really interesting look at what we do and do not control in our lives.

The book follows a woman named Liz Kendall, who in the very first chapter is being attacked by her ex-husband Marc. But as he begins choking her, something different happens; Liz loses control and quickly defends herself, incapacitating her ex and saving her own life.

Unlike the post apocalyptic setting of The Girl With All The Gifts, Someone Like Me takes place in modern-day Pittsburgh and although there are a number of genre elements (I don't want to get too specific to avoid spoilers), and works all the better for it. The novel feels like a ghost story mixed with a thriller and had me fully invested in the lives of Liz and her family almost immediately.

Although the violence may be an issue for some, in the end I found the book to be really hopeful and powerful in its look at how we deal with trauma and how it can affect ourselves and those around us.

A really great read.

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.