April 20, 2015

Recent Reads

37. Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past
This is a strange and interesting book. The author has a hobby - he collects old photographs of people he does not know. There is a catch though - the photos need text of some kind written on it. This book is a curation of some of the photos from the author's collection. The photos are all black and white, and while the photos are interesting in themselves, it is the text that gives you a peek into these stranger's lives. The handwritten words on either the back or the front of the photos document various things: who, where, when, what, why. The combination of the words and text creates a little tableau on each page that is quite fun, and sometimes disturbing. Will one be able to have such a hobby in the future now that we are all digital? Rating: 3 stars.

38. The Lion and the Bird
This delightful picture book is a quiet meditation on life and friendship. The pacing is lovely, and would work well as a curl up and read aloud story with a little one. Rating: 3 stars.

39. Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
Let me start by saying (in case you did not already know), that 300 is one of my all time favorite movies, and I'll probably watch it about that many times before I die. AU!

My love affair with the Spartans goes way back to primary school, so, when Ann Kingman raved about this book on the Books on the Nightstand podcast, I went out and picked it up immediately. 300 is the story of the epic battle of Thermopylae, and this historical novel is told through the eyes of a non-Spartan in the years leading up to that battle. We enter the story after that fateful battle, and find Xeones injured and under the care of Persian surgeons. He is the only survivor of the battle, and King Xerxes has commanded him to recount the story of the Spartans, so as to better understand this worthy adversary. The entire book is the verbal transcript, with some asides by the scribe, of that story. The story starts many years before the Gates of Fire, when Xeones is but a young boy. As Xeo shares his tale we learn all about his life, how he gets to Sparta, the training and lifestyle of the Spartans, and the years that lead up to the Battle of Thermopylae, and its aftermath. 

Yes this is a war novel, but it is surprisingly philosophical as well. The characters are well developed, and while the attention to detail was a little dense at times, I was swept along for the ride. My only complaint is that the pacing was off in certain sections of the book - sometimes way too fast with too little detail, sometimes way too slow and bogged down with minutiae. 

I knew how this story was going to end, and still I was in tears for portions of the book. If you are interested in a compelling, well-written book in which you learn a few historical facts, move this up your TBR pile.

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
that here obedient to their laws we lie.

Rating: 5 stars.

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