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Ten Caesars

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

By Barry Strauss

The Short Take:

Strauss provides a concise look at the rise, rule, and fall of ten of Rome’s most important emperors. Since he devotes roughly 30 pages to each, it’s little more than a thumbnail sketch which might be perfect, or not.

Why?

I did learn a fair amount from this book, and also learned some of what I thought I knew was incorrect (I’m talking about you, Robert Graves’ of I, Claudius.). But ultimately I was disappointed by the shortness of the entries. I wanted more.

Strauss certainly makes his subjects approachable. His language is casual and contemporary, not at all what I’m used to in a history. It’s not often you find a pop cultural reference in serious books, but there was Game of Thrones cited to describe a battle between several would-be-Caesars.

The emperors covered include Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, Vespasian, Trajan. Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Septimus Severus, Diocletian, and Constantine. Some were little more than names to me before reading this–especially Trajan and Hadrian, whose names are attached to ruins/structures I’ve seen. In the case of Marcus Aurelius, I was ashamed that I had never even heard of his Meditations, which (Strauss claims) is the second most read book in the world after the New Testament. Of course, it’s now on my ever-growing “must read” list.

I did appreciate that he made a strong effort to include the women who propelled, advised, and influenced his emperors. Reading about the mothers, wives and other women around these powerful men helped to shape your understanding of them.

However, the greatest enlightenment for me came from how he portrayed the Roman people. I understand their philosophies, values, and other attributes far better than before. That was the best thing of all.

A Little Plot:

It starts with Augustus and ends with Constantine. However, Strauss also provides some connecting information to help with the gaps that occur between certain Caesars. That helps one’s understanding of how and why different ones came to power.

For more about Barry Strauss and his books, click here.

The Malta Exchange

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

By Steve Berry

The Short Take:

I enjoy thrillers and Steve Berry has been a long time favorite, but not this time. The “twist” was obvious from early on in this story of intrigue involving the Knights of Malta and the election of a new pope.

Why?

Berry started his series featuring former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone with a terrific thriller built around the Knights Templar. For his 14th book in the series he returned to one of those religious/martial groups: The Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, Rhodes, and Malta (depending on the century). I had high hopes due to the subject matter, but this series has gone stale.

This seems to be a recurring problem for thriller writers. It’s not that Berry isn’t finding new historical “secrets” or theories to exploit in his books, but the increasing weight of the main characters relationships and backstories simply drags things down. I had high hopes Berry was going to start a new series with The Columbus Affair, which starred an interesting investigative journalist, but that turned out to be a single outing.

Sadly, this book was so disappointing it will probably be the last one of his I read.

A Little Plot:

A cardinal with popish ambitions is given information that could make his dreams come true. However, American and British operatives are paying close attention and are suspicious of his actions.

For more about Steve Berry and his books, click here.

The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

9780691160597By Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated and edited by Jack Zipes

The Short Take:

Don’t read these to your kids! This is the real deal, no Disneyesque re-imagining. Some stories might feel familiar, but the plots will twist in ways you never read before, unless you devoured the old Andrew Lang compilations like I did. Despite that there were still many delightful, humorous, shocking surprises.

Why?

This book, which came out three years ago, is the very first English translation of the complete Grimms’ original edition. Since the two volumes of stories in this single book came out in 1812 and 1815, I don’t understand the delay, but it was worth the wait.

You say you’ve already read the original Brothers Grimm? Well, they did publish six other editions, editing and softening the stories with each subsequent outing. This is the original material and its first time in English. Don’t skip the introduction either. The story of the brothers, their quest for these stories, and how their work evolved is a fascinating read.

There are 156 different tales in this book. Some are variations on a single theme, others barely longer than a paragraph; many sound vaguely familiar, many more are unheard of. However, don’t go looking for any fairies — there are none in this collection.

It took me so long to finish this book because I savored one story at a time. They deserved it.

A Little Plot:

I cannot resist a brief retelling of one tale that cracked me up:

There were two brothers, one wealthy and one poor. The poor brother was a farmer and one of his turnips got to be truly enormous. He didn’t want to eat it, since little turnips would taste the same, nor did he want to sell it, since it wouldn’t earn much. He decided to give it to the king. It filled his cart and took two oxen to move. The king was delighted and gave the poor brother so much gold and property he became richer than his wealthy brother.

The jealous wealthy brother decided to bring the king a better gift — horses and gold — expecting something ever greater in return. The king was delighted with the gift, saying the only thing he possessed that was finer and rarer was his giant turnip, which he gave the wealthy brother.

The story continues, by the way, but this is all I’m sharing.

Guest BLOG By Author Donna Migliaccio

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

We’re excited to present this guest blog by the author of Fiskur (review below).

 

WHERE I WRITE IS HOW I WRITE IS WHAT I WRITE

By Donna Migliaccio

 

Remember what the dormouse said

Feed your head, feed your head

“White Rabbit” by Grace Slick

 

I write this sitting on a pair of house slippers.

That’s not entirely correct. I write this sitting on a tall wooden stool at a faux-granite countertop in a teeny-tiny sublet in midtown Manhattan. The house slippers are between me and the stool because the stool is hard and makes my sciatica flare up.

I am writing in this less-than-ideal environment because I’m temporarily in New York working on a Broadway show. I’ve been here for about nine months. Another week left, and the show will be closed and I will be headed back home to Virginia, where I have a proper desk and a proper chair in a proper office.

Do ideal settings make me write more? Or write better?

No. Sometimes the odder the writing environment, the more the ideas flow. I’ve written in coffee shops and restaurants, libraries, parks, trains, buses and airplanes, conference rooms, hotel rooms, laundry rooms, dressing rooms and theatre lobbies. I’ve written in lined notebooks, on scraps of paper, bits of napkin and out loud into a recorder, but I’m happiest if I can use my laptop on a proper surface with a decent chair. (Because sciatica.)

I don’t need silence; as long as the sounds around me aren’t blaringly intrusive, they’re just absorbed into the experience. If things get too loud, I can always put in my earbuds and listen to some music while I write.

Since I write fantasy, I rely heavily on my imagination, and the more I’m stimulated by my surroundings – odd though they may be – the more open I am to new ideas. Sometimes my desk and chair at home are too familiar, too comfortable, so I make a point of getting up and moving around every hour or so. (Also because sciatica.) I look out the window, go out on the deck, head into the garden and pull a few weeds. If I’m really stuck, I go for a walk. Sometimes I’ll take a notebook with me, just in case inspiration strikes, but mostly I just walk and breathe and think.

My most productive walks are in nature and in solitude: open fields, forests and deserted beaches are best. I like both an expansive view and minute details: open ocean and grains of sand, towering trees and a chickadee on a twig, wide open spaces and a cricket at my toes.

But sitting on a pair of house slippers will work just as well. It’s all grist for the mill. My discomfort – as far as I can stand it – is another experience that I can use in my writing. It opens my mind, it releases my imagination, it feeds my head – far better than the potions and mushrooms advocated by Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane in“White Rabbit.”

“Thanks, Donna, for sharing these insights with my readers — and hopefully, yours, too.

Idaho

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

61mPe2WuzeL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_By Emily Ruskovich

The Short Take:

I could not put this book down but I can’t tell you why. The language was positively lyrical, however the story was unsatisfying. It wasn’t helped by having at least nine different points of view, time jumping, and massive amounts of internal conflict rather than external action.

Why?

If I considered myself a literary critic instead of a mere book lover, I might have had much stronger positive feelings about this writer’s debut novel. Unfortunately, I’m shallower than that.

The biggest problem was that I couldn’t accept the premise the storytelling centered upon (which I can’t reveal here without spoiling everything). In addition, the horrific events described in this novel (they all happen “off camera”) are all unresolved mysteries — you might learn who, but never understand why.

Guilt, remorse, escape, and the impossibility of redemption are all recurring themes, thoughtfully treated. There are moments of exceptional tenderness between characters. Knowledge — both for the reader and the characters — is revealed in an intriguing, compelling way. But for all that, it just didn’t satisfy.

A Little Plot:

Ann marries Wade and they live on a remote mountain. He experienced a tragedy that completely removed his wife and two daughters from his life; and he has removed every physical trace of them from his present. Ann is obsessed with learning more about them and what exactly happened yet doesn’t want to upset Wade with questions.

Want to Try an Erotic Romance?

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

41bfCX4lA1L._SL75_How about The Horse List by Anna Lores?

The Short Take:

This is an adults-only book, with graphic sexual descriptions and acts. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if it’s yours — enjoy!

Why?

I know a lot of people who write books and short stories. Not too many of them are ever offered for publication. Even fewer are actually published. Lores is one of the few who followed her dream to fruition.

Suffering from insomnia, Lores started writing in the middle of the night. She leaned towards erotica, but wanted her women to be sexually empowered not mere playthings for others. Of course in erotic romances there is a need for push-and-pull as the main characters struggle for dominance over their desires and each other.

Lores nails it.

A Little Plot:

Ava Black has finally escaped her abusive husband and intends to celebrate her freedom with an updated version of her “Horse List.” As a child, owning a horse was at the top of that wish list, now her desires are adult fantasies she intends to make realities.

There’s more than one man that interests her, but will she be able to keep her past from shaping her future?

To find out more about Lores and her book, click here.

 

 

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