You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.
Saturday, 23 February 2013
I've started a travel series on Estonia on Gadling, the travel blog that sent me there last week. As you can imagine, the northernmost Baltic state was pretty snowy this time of year, although unusually mild--only 0C or 32F.
Anyway, hit the link and follow my adventures as I explore one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe, visit old Soviet military installations, and explore secret tunnels underneath the capital!
Saturday, 16 February 2013
Pagan City and Christian Capital: Rome in the 4th Century by John Curran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This academic tome is an in-depth look at Rome's architectural and social development in the fourth century AD, a time when paganism was waning and Christianity became the dominant religion.
The first half looks at how the imperial capital, replete with symbols of paganism, slowly transformed into a place of churches and the tombs of martyrs. The second half is social history, looking at the development of the aristocracy of the time and at changing attitudes towards the Roman circus.
There are surprises throughout. While more simplistic books often describe the fourth century as a time of conflict between paganism and Christianity, the reality Curran reveals was much more complex. Christians and pagans lived and worked side by side, and except for some notable examples of persecution, pagans kept most of their religious rights for much of this century.
One of the most interesting chapters was on how Christian aristocrats discouraged individuals of their class from becoming Christian ascetics. (It was all about inheritance and continuing the family line, you see). Another interesting passage studies how the pagan symbols in the Circus Maximus remained in full public view long after most temples were closed, yet gradually lost their pagan meaning to be replaced with a more general one. The statues of Victory, for example, stopped being statues of a goddess and became symbols of the idea of victory.
I found the reading a bit dense at times and the author assumes way too much knowledge. I have a Masters in archaeology (although not Classical archaeology) but didn't know all the terms Curran expected me to. Also, he quotes extensively from French, Latin, and Greek sources without translating them. The French I can do, the Latin kinda sorta, and the Greek, well. . .it's all Greek to me!
I think Curran made a serious mistake here. With a bit of extra work, he could attract a much larger readership of educated laymen rather than a tiny audience of fellow academics. Considering the interesting subject matter and the depth of work that went into this book, that's a pity.
View all my reviews
Tuesday, 22 January 2013
The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
All the Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born, by Ayi Kwei Armah, is an excellent read and the second-best book I read all year, after Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo.
Armah wrote this novel in 1968, only eleven years after Ghana got its independence, and he is often considered to be from the "second generation" of African writers. The first generation wrote around the time of independence and was filled with optimism. Things went bad quickly, though, as Armah's book shows.
The story follows an unnamed man who works in a railway office. He refuses to take bribes or be in any way involved in the corruption that's enriching his friends and destroying his nation. He knows his stance is pointless, because the corruption will continue with or without him, but he stands on his principles. It's a relentlessly pessimistic book, although the writing is beautiful and one corrupt official gets a hilarious comeuppance near the end. I highly recommend it, but not if you're in a good mood.
View all my reviews
Friday, 18 January 2013
Planet Big Zero by Franklin Hadley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I bought this book because it was on the used bargain rack for 25 cents and it had a cool cover. So cool, in fact, that when my seven-year-old was rummaging through my stack of old pulps he picked this one out for me to read!
Sadly, the book doesn't match up to the cover. Back in the 1960s publishers would slap a picture of a rocket onto any old piece of trash and sell it as science fiction. This book has a hackneyed plot, cardboard characters, and inaccurate science. Why, for example, when a spaceship accelerates do the occupants fly FORWARD?
There were a few cool ideas in this book, like the evil aliens hiding out inside a nebula and that the Earthmen vs. Aliens theme is given a new twist by having each side include some loyal members of the other race. So I'm giving this two stars and facing it out on my kid's bookshelf.
I'll make sure he reads better science fiction than this, however!
View all my reviews
Sunday, 2 December 2012
For Osprey Publishing I wrote about the Baghdad North Gate War Cemetery, where many of the British Empire's fallen from the First World War are interred. For A.J. Walker's blog on medieval history and archaeology, I wrote a guest post about a medieval castle in Iraq. Over at The Adventure Blog I've written about the ancient Arab city of Hatra. I also wrote about Exploring Medieval Baghdad for Black Gate Magazine, which published my historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence.
So head on over to these sites and get some good free reading, otherwise this Iraqi kid will ride his ancient lion over to your house and eat you!
Saturday, 24 November 2012
Yes, I haven't posted on this blog for a while, but there's a new crop of book reviews coming up so it will get a bit more lively here. Right now I'm busy on my latest series for Gadling, which is about traveling in Iraq. I spent 17 days in the country last month and I'm writing a long series about my intense yet mostly positive experiences there. It's called Destination: Iraq. Check it out!
Thursday, 30 August 2012
As I mentioned over on my Civil War blog, I celebrated my 43rd birthday on August 16 and to celebrate, I dropped the prices of my ebooks for the rest of the month. My Civil War novel A Fine Likeness is reduced from $5.99 to $2.99, and my short story collection The Night the Nazis Came to Dinner and other dark tales is reduced from $2.99 to $.99. That's right, just 99 cents!
Tomorrow is the last day of August, and the last day of the sale. Get these books at a discount while you can! (and thanks to those who already have, I love getting new readers!)