SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard (2015).  I guess I will never tire of reading books about ancient Rome.  This is a good one.  It starts at the very beginning, examining the mythical founding stories of Romulus and Remus and the early dynasty of kings of Rome, and then marches up to the year 212 A.D. when emperor Caracalla made every free male inhabitant of the empire a Roman citizen.  Beard doesn’t focus much on the big names of Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Caesar Augustus, but Cicero gets quite of bit of ink.  Very readable, but I did get slightly irritated when Beard would interject little comments about how barbaric or how sexist some particular ancient practice seems by today’s standards.  I didn’t really need her to prove her up-to-date sensibilities to me.

The Diary of a Young Girl (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.  I had never read this famous book before, but when I signed up for a vacation trip to Amsterdam I figured I should read it first.  I got about halfway through before my trip rolled around, but that was enough to help give me some context when I visited the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam.  I finished the book over the course of the trip.  Anyway, it is an interesting book, and Anne comes across as a lively, spirited, and strong-willed teenager.  It does get a little repetitive, perhaps, but how could it not, given that Anne lived in hiding in a tiny space with the same group of people for two years?

The Lifeboat (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan (2012).  This is a pretty good novel.  It’s a first-person narrative by a young woman named Grace.  In the short prologue, we find out that (1) she survived some sort of oceanic disaster in a lifeboat, and (2) she and two other women are about to be tried for a murder allegedly committed on said lifeboat.  The rest of the book is her account of the disaster.  She spins a pretty convincing tale, but she’s clearly someone who always looks out for Number One.  Can we trust her account of events?  I found the book well-written and even hard to put down.

Ancestral Shadows (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales, by Russell Kirk (2004).  I know of Russell Kirk mainly as an eccentric founding father of modern American conservatism and as the author of the 1953 classic The Conservative Mind.  But he apparently has a reputation as an author of ghost stories and gothic tales, so I gave this anthology a try.  The stories are strange—very religious in sensibility, and not really scary.  I didn’t care for the first few, but I thought they got better as they went along.  It isn’t Steven King or H.P. Lovecraft, but if you like weird fiction you might conceivably find this volume interesting.

The Warden (book review)

The Movie Snob pens a book review.

The Warden, by Anthony Trollope (1855).  I quite enjoyed this short (203 pages) novel, which is the first by Trollope I have ever read.  The action takes place mainly in a fictional area of England called Barsetshire, and I think most fans of Jane Austen (and perhaps Downton Abbey) might feel quite at home here.  The action of the story is quite simple.  The “warden” is Septimus Harding, a mild, minor Anglican clergyman.  For several years, he has had a comfortable living off a very old charitable bequest, for which all he has to do is look after twelve impoverished old men who have come to live at a place called Hiram’s Hospital.  But similar arrangements are coming under scrutiny in other parts of England, and there have been scandals when people discovered that the modern arrangements don’t really match up to the terms of the ancient bequests.  When a fellow of reforming temperament starts to look into Rev. Harding’s set-up, the good clergyman is shaken to the core to think that he has not been entitled to the money he has taken from the trust and rather freely spent over the years.  A fierce archdeacon (who happens to be Rev. Harding’s son-in-law) fights back vigorously against the reformer and assures his father-in-law that they will prevail in court, but to Rev. Harding’s credit he doesn’t want to win—he wants to be right.  It’s an enjoyable story, and although the stakes are pretty low, I still found myself sympathizing with Rev. Harding’s distress.

Mistborn (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson (2006).  A friend recommended this fantasy novel to me, and I liked it.  This fantasy world is a dismal place.  Ash frequently rains from the sky, most people are serfs or slaves, and there’s a nasty Lord Ruler who has tyrannized the realm for like 1,000 years.  But a few people still dare to plot his overthrow, and a resourceful young female thief named Vin gets pulled into their seemingly suicidal circle.  The system of magic in this world is pretty complicated, and I didn’t really try to follow it all that closely.  Only a relatively few people have magical powers, and to access them they have to ingest and “burn” various metals to achieve the particular metals’ magical effects.  (One of the main magical effects these people can pull off is to manipulate metal a lot like Magneto from X-Men.)  Anyway, I enjoyed it even without trying to remember what all the different metals can do.  Apparently it is the first book in a substantial series, but it also works as a stand-alone tale.

Offshore (book review)

Another book review from The Movie Snob.

Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald (1979).  This is another very short novel by Fitzgerald.  I liked the first novel of hers that I read, The Bookshop, and I liked this one even better.  It’s about a handful of interesting characters who live on boats (mostly on barges lashed together) docked out on the Thames.  Apparently Fitzgerald herself actually lived on such a houseboat for a while, so it may be somewhat autobiographical.  I won’t go into the plot since it is a very short book, but I will say that I found the characters interesting and their stories involving.  Six-year-old Tilda (Matilda) James is particularly likeable.  I recommend it.