Review: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard (2016)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2016
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Discussions of violence and rape

The depth of my knowledge of ancient Rome starts with a loose understanding of Romulus and Remus, and ends with Shakespeare’s plays.

Beard’s account of Rome’s first millennia is full of colorful characters, dissections of different accounts, and touches on the myriad relics that continue to be found to this day. This book is so easy to listen to. The stories flow into each other and each chapter builds on what came before it. SPQR manages to hold the story of early Rome, while managing to go into depth on certain stories. The fact that this is not a Cliffs notes account of all the politics, intrigue, and conflict is really something to behold.

What really endeared me was how funny it was in places. Perhaps it was my own ignorance, but the dead pan way Beard presents the tales really worked to tickle me. My personal favorites include the truth about the assassination of Julius Caesar and several attempted murders on collapsible boats.

In terms of minor gripes, if you enjoy a plethora of rhetorical questions, this is the nonfiction work for you. Some of them do eventually get answered, if only tangentially. But there is enough material proposed to fill another 500+ page book. In addition, my favorite chapter was the one about the haves and the have-nots. It covers unseen aspects of culture that get overshadowed by the nigh-legendary political stories. This discussion, however, can also cover another 500+ page book.

A fantastic, easy-to-read primer on early Rome with enough material to encompass further exploration and learning.

August 2020 Reading Recap

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Summer is coming to an end, I guess. The autumn equinox doesn’t hit until September 22nd, but we can already get pumpkin spice lattes, so I’m saying summer is over. A few more books read this month. No interviews, but I have so much excitement coming in September. Continue reading

Review: THE INDIFFERENT STARS ABOVE: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by Daniel James Brown (2009)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2009
Source: Libro.fm

Trigger warnings: Cannibalism, starvation, suicidal ideation, gore, dog eating

I read The Hunger earlier this year, and the story of the Donner party has fascinated me since. This book was also used for a bulk of the Last Podcast of the Left’s research.

While Katsu’s story gets up close and personal with some of the key players in the party, Brown’s account loosely follows the key players. He structures the account around Sarah Graves and her survival, and it is novelesque. There is hope, there is fear, there are terrible decisions, and battles happening both among members of the camp and against individual physiology. The fact that he visited the trail to see what winter was like and gave in sensory details maintained the illusion of fiction, until grounded contexts gently reminded the reader that, yes, all of this really happened in 1846.

What really makes this book stand out is the level of contextualization. Whenever a new roadblock met the Donner and Reed parties, he paused to go into more detail, providing some scientific evidence that only could have been discovered from more contemporary research. Examples include the general dangers posed to children on the wagon train regardless of ill-fated detours, discussing if the weather had been particularly deadly the year they spent at Truckee lake, the physiology behind starving, and more. The focus never left the actual humans who underwent this truly harrowing ordeal. What I also found interesting was that he would zoom out to discuss life in the U.S. as a contrast. It’s something I hadn’t encountered in my nonfiction, and I would love to see more.

An epic read that contextualizes what was happening to and around the tragic members of the Donner and Reed parties.

 

August 2020 TBR

I’m wrapping up a beta read and starting another one this month. How is it August? What is time?

I will also be launching a serial on Wattpad sometime this month! It’s called Sable Cetacea Revolution and it will have mechs, whale titans, queer rep, and political intrigue.

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July 2020 Reading Recap

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I hit my goal of reading 100 books in July! Which sounds absurd, but between Animal Crossing, unemployment, and ongoing lockdowns, there is so much reading to be done (television, for whatever reason, cannot hold my attention).

This month, I did two blog interviews:

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Review: LABYRINTH OF ICE: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition by Buddy Levy (2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2019
Source: Libro.fm Audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

This book must have been recommended to me by a friend, because it showed up on my libro.fm wishlist and wow. I do not regret a single minute of this harrowing tale about an expedition to reach the new “furthest north” where only five members survived in the end.

The way Levy takes the reader through the promise of adventure and the light-hearted before times to the places where disaster loomed and the aftermath and the brave rescue. Like other reads, this one never fails to bring forth the wonder and prestige of partaking in such expeditions. There is an allure to the land of groaning ice floes, unpredictable weather, and creatures which can’t be seen anywhere else on earth. It really helps mitigate the “why would anyone do this” factor of this tragic expedition. Terrifying to think that this is one of the more successful excursions (yes, there are mentions of cannibalism towards the end).

Plus, the ending does a fantastic job of connecting the expedition to the realities of climate change endangering those arctic lands. An absolute must-read for those interested in immersing themselves in the wonders and dangers of the arctic.

 

Review: SPYING ON WHALES by Nick Pyenson (2018)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2018
Source: My own physical copy

Whales are my favorite animal. Majesty, ignorant of their vast majesty, a mammal that returned to the sea during their evolution, they are simply awe-inspiring. After reading the litany of incorrect whales fact that is Moby Dick last year, the time had finally come to learn something new.

Pyenson really draws into his own experiences as a paleontologist to contextualize discoveries about whales and presenting facts about their life cycles. What I loved most about the way information is presented is that it ties together into an overview of the past, present, and future, using each segment to support the others. In addition, Pyenson refrains from over-relying on the novelty of every new discovery. There is so much left to learn about them, and the vastness of the oceans doesn’t help.

A great overview about whales, their lives, and the ways humans made an impact on their ecosystems.

 

May 2020 Reading Recap

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May featured the Nebulas and continued work on myself during this unemployed time.

No special posts this month, but definitely an interview with K.A. Doore coming your way in June.

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