Sunday, 24 February 2019

Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day, by Philip Matyszak

This is a short book, about 140 pages, set in 200 AD and covering what a visitor to Rome might see and do. Beginning with arrival nearby and travelling into the city itself, there’s a wealth of practical advice, from where to stay to how dinner parties work, as well as religion and shopping.

It’s an engaging book, with interesting snippets of information and the sort of approach to history that makes it very easy to imagine what it would’ve been like to visit Rome, climbing its hills and descending into its valleys. Details such as how much wine might cost, or the widespread dislike of the Praetorian Guard, add to the immersion.

The writing style is light-hearted, occasionally humorous, and easy to read.

I’ve read quite a lot of Thames and Hudson books of this nature, but all my previous ones were hardback. I must say I prefer those to the paperback. However, if your shelf space is limited the thickness is about halved by going for the paperback.

Weirdly, there’s a page numbering error, for maybe a dozen pages preceding the first set of plates. The standard numbering is fine, but the Latin numbering (which is correct both earlier and later) starts showing the incorrect numbers. Not a huge thing, but clearly wrong.

The plates are entirely CGI. A spot of real world photography for still extant architecture would’ve been nice (the Egyptian edition in this series had some creative modern drawings, but also ancient Egyptian artwork too). The map at the back is a double page spread, with some detail swallowed by the spine (bit of a pet hate).

Overall, a good book, with one or two minor things that could’ve been done a bit better, none of which relate to the actual text itself.


Saturday, 16 February 2019

Snapshots – pick of the bunch

Blogging’s been a little light lately, due to me being busy with other stuff (Crown of Blood should be out later March/April, incidentally).

Time for a look back at the best samples of the last four Snapshot reviews, in which I single out the books I might actually end up buying. Links at the end of the post lead to the sample reviews (I’ve picked at least one from each post. The first snapshots post was written separately, some time earlier).

I’ll start with the mega-sampled The Chronicles of the Black Gate (books 1-3), by Phil Tucker, from the most recent post. To be honest, the only reasons I didn’t immediately buy this (I read the whole circa 40,000 word sample and really enjoyed it) was because I already have a comically large to-read pile, and I use my Kindle for proofreading (which I did immediately after finishing the sample). Highly likely I’ll buy this book.

Perhaps the most unexpected delight was Storm Glass (Harbinger book 1), by Jeff Wheeler. I selected books without reading descriptions and this one has plenty of stuff I wouldn’t normally consider. Child protagonist, ghost story, orphan. Not my cup of tea. Usually. But it’s very well-written and genuinely intriguing.

The Copper Promise (Copper Cat Trilogy), by Jen Williams, is a lot more my usual cup of tea. Fantastical doings, a spot of torture, multiple POV characters on a quest for treasure. The sample was entertaining and piqued my interest.

One of the samples I liked the most was Kingshold (Wildfire Cycle book 1), by DP Woolliscroft, (at the time of writing, this is an #SPFBO finalist, with the ultimate winner of the current contest undecided). Multiple engaging POVs, an intriguing world, and a major city about to make the transition from monarchy to democracy. Another one I’m very likely to end up buying.

I liked the daft comedy of Space Team (Volume 1), by Barry J Hutchison, (with the caveat that bodily fluid stuff generally isn’t my thing). Otherwise, fun, fast-paced, and amusing (which is helpful, for a comedy).

And so we move to the weird collection of excellence I accidentally threw together for the earliest (of the most recent batch) snapshot review. By chance, this included two #SPFBO winners and practically every damned sample was excellent. So, I’ve set myself the challenge of picking only two. Which I already know is going to be difficult because I can remember three off the top of my head, and want all of them.

In the end, I went for The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids (Amra Thetys Series book 1), by Michael McClung, and Dangerous to Know (Chronicles of Breed, book 1), by KT Davies, both of which feature thief-type protagonists. Both have engaging lead characters and interesting worlds, and both set up intriguing premises within the scope of the sample.

Anyway, that’ll be the last bit of sample reviewing for a little while. I think there are some real gems in there, as well as some books I never would’ve checked out if it weren’t for the slightly random approach I took. Hope you found something interesting to read too.

Sample review links:


Friday, 1 February 2019

Review: Repulse, by Chris James

This is an interesting book. It’s a sci-fi ‘history’ of a war to be fought in Europe, 2062-64, written in a style not dissimilar to some general overview histories I read last year about the World Wars.

The war in question features a sprawling Middle Eastern/North African Caliphate which suddenly attacks Europe, using technological advantage to conquer the whole continental landmass. Will Britain manage to defy the odds and survive? Will the Caliphate be pushed back?

The tech level is an order of magnitude beyond current possibilities, with tanks and soldiers making appearances but battles and war dominated by autonomous aircraft guided by AI. There’s shielding, lasers, and so forth. I thought the tech level was fairly realistic, whilst still, of course, being futuristic and interesting.

It’s an odd book. I did take a while to get into it, although I do read sci-fi sometimes, and military history. Near future and modern history are less interesting to me than either older history or more advanced sci-fi, which may be why it took a while for me to get into it, although I did end up reading the last third much more rapidly.

The writing style echoes those of genuine modern histories and does a good job of imitating them, with sources (diaries, other histories, papers released under the 30 year rule etc) being utilised. It’s an interesting approach and works well.

However, that same approach, with some exceptions (eyewitness testimony, diaries), does necessarily increase the distance between reader and brutality of war, which would not have been the case had a more traditional first/third person perspective been adopted. Obviously, this is a choice that’s been made, and the historical approach does enable a more neutral view, allowing for consideration of battlefield moral dilemmas rather than either justifying or decrying harsh measures in war.

Overall, I thought it was interesting and quite liked it. I’d suggest checking the sample before buying to see if it’s your cup of tea.