Murder on the Appian Way

Murder on the Appian Way (Roma Sub Rosa #5) by Stephen Saylor

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Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Pexels.com

I love a good historical fiction, and if there’s mystery or romance in there too, I am even more interested. This book is about Gordianus the Finder, neighbor of the orator Cicero, who becomes entangled in the hunt for a murderer.

Even in Rome, maybe especially in Rome, politicians did not get along. But this feud may have actually caused a murder. Soon each side is fighting in the streets and then actual riots break out. Gordian goes back to the scene of the crime to see if he can figure out who’s really guilty.

I loved the setting on this. The story is based on actual events, and it’s full of details, such as the local shrine of the Good Goddess, Hestia  I think, and the courtroom drama. It felt like I was really there.

The one thing I wasn’t crazy about was Gordianus. He comes a little too close to cheating on his wife for me to see him as a really good guy. But I did like the series enough to see if I can find the first book in the series. I like the audio version, but I think print would be fine too.

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Top 10 Tuesday – Audiobooks

I have really become a fan of audiobooks. A couple of years ago I wasn’t so sure about them, but the more I listen, the more I love them. Nothing makes an annoying or stressful car ride better than a great book. And when I’m working at home, a gripping story can make the hours fly by. Here are some I recommend.

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10 Mystery Audiobooks You Need to Find

  1. Moriarty by Antony Horowitz – This one was good, nothing extraordinary, until about halfway through it became one of the best books of year! The ending completely took me by surprise. Great narration on this one.
  2. No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith – My favorite in this long series is the first one, but any of them are good. The African narrator adds so much to the story that I imagine reading it in her voice when I read the print too!
  3. Silks by Dick Francis – Francis is one of my favorite mystery/thriller writers and I’ve loved all the audio versions. This one is set in a courtroom.
  4. A Lady in the Smoke by Karen Odden – I’ve already reviewed this Victorian mystery here, but it’s worth mentioning again. The setting really adds to this book’s appeal. Review here.
  5. The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Alford. This one has an unexpected ending that made it a totally unpredictable ending. Review here.
  6. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie – It’s not her best, but it is the first. I listened to the one narrated by Hugh Fraser and he does an excellent job with each of the characters.
  7. Behold, Here’s Poison by Georgette Heyer – This one may be hard to find, but I love her mysteries. They’re full of crazy characters and have a touch of old-fashioned romance.
  8. The Heiress of Linn Hagh by Karen Charlton – A great narrator made this one work for me. Captures different English voices and I got a picture of each character as I listened.
  9. The Dispatcher by John Scalzi – As much science fiction as mystery and completely original. I loved the main character and his story.
  10. The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King – This one took characters I thought I knew and changed everything completely! Bold and dramatic and completely engrossing.

 

There, now you have 10 more titles to look for if you’re already a fan of audiobooks, and if you’re not, well, here’s 10 reasons you should be! Tell me what you’re listening to in the comments.

September Wrap-Up

September is over! I’m so glad summer is over! I feel like this year has flown by. It’s definitely been a better year than last year for me. And this was a pretty good month, for reading and other stuff. Here’s a look at what I read this month, and best of each category.

Audiobooks

It has been the year of the audiobook for me! And this month was no exception.

  • Frogkisser by Garth Nix – 4 stars, review here
  • Newt’s Emerald, also by Garth Nix – 4 stars, review here
  • The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner – 5 stars!!!
  • American Colonies by Alan Taylor – 3.4 stars, review here
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – 5 stars, review here
  • Entwined by Heather Dixon – 4.2 stars
  • The Sans Pareil Mystery by Karen Charlton – 4 stars, review here

Lots of great choices this time. I actually have 2 books with 5 star ratings, and I’m torn between the two. TQOA was a reread, but AMCO was new to me. Still, I love Eugenides the Thief so much, I have to give the award to that one.

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Graphic Novels

Only one this time, Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon. Only rating it 3 stars, although it got higher marks from other folks. Still, I’m glad I read it. Review here.

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ARCS and Review Books

Two finished this month, and I didn’t like either one.

  • Trust in Axion by Bruce Meyer, 1.5 stars, review here
  • Darkwater: Xenkur Chonricles by DW Johnson, 1 star, review here

 

Challenges

This month was my Off the Shelf Challenge, to clear out some of my TBR books around the house and off my Kindle queue. I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped – those darn library books were just so tempting. (Maybe if I actually stayed out of the library it would have helped, right?)

  • Passage by Connie Willis, 4.3 stars
  • Enchanted by KM Shea, 4 stars
  • The Dragon Man by Garry Disher, 2.2 stars, review here
  • The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd, DNF
  • Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen by Bill Crider, 3.75 stars, review here
  • Something New by PG Wodehouse, 3.5 stars

Not bad, but not great. Still, the winner was Passage, solid sci-fi by the master. I haven’t done a review yet, but it was really good.

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Library Books

Yeah, I meant to stay out of the library all together, but I sneaked in at the end of August and didn’t get around to reading the books until this month, so here they are.

  • Lord of the Wings by Donna Andrews, 3.5 stars
  • Die Like an Eagle, also by Donna Andrews, 3.3 stars

It doesn’t matter much, here, but I liked the Halloween setting of the first book slightly better than the second. Still, both are recommended if you like funny mysteries. Reviews here.

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So that was my month in books! I’m currently STILL reading The Queens of the Conquest (it’s going to kill me!), plus Nation by Terry Pratchett on audio, and a fantasy/myth anthology. No definite plans for October other than maybe some spooky fare. We’ll see. What was your favorite book this month?

DNF x 2

I drive an old truck that used to belong to my dad. I love it, even though it’s a little temperamental and kinda creaky. (Just like him.) It also has a CD player, the only working one I have access to. I mostly use it for audiobooks, and recently finished The Queen of Attolia, which once again blew me away.

Then I ran into 2 duds in a row.

The first was Fairest by Marissa Meyer. I loved The Lunar Chronicles, but a whole book about Levana? I wasn’t sure. Still, I was definitely curious. Well, I didn’t get very far into it before I realized that it wasn’t for me. Levana was such a hateful character, I just didn’t want to spend several hours in her company. She’s so cruel and selfish, I couldn’t put up with it.

The second was Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl. It was described as a cross between I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (which I really liked) and Pride and Prejudice (which I love). It sounded like a can’t miss. It missed. It was meant to be satire, but again I just didn’t like the main character. Althea is on the hunt for a rich husband, but I found her too irritating to care what happened. The humor just missed for me.

So I went back to the library and found one more I’m going to try,  Galileo’s Daughter. It’s been on my TBR list for a while, so here’s hoping it’s a good absorbing story. (Although honestly, nothing’s going to measure up to Euginides.)

Wheat Belly

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Title: Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Way Back to Health

Author: Dr. William Davis

I love bread. And cake. And cookies, and pasta, and brownies, and pizza, and pretty much everything made from wheat. And I’m fat. There you go! Proof, right there, that wheat is bad.

Except it’s not. Not proof, not conclusive. My weight has to do with a lot of issues, partly my diet, partly my age, my sedentary lifestyle, and my genetics. Only some of those issues are in my power to change. But what about that wheat? Is that the real problem?

According to Dr. Davis, wheat is the main culprit behind the obesity epidemic in the United States. And it is an epidemic. Weight, and waistlines, have increased steadily for the last 100 years. So has incidence of adult onset diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other illnesses. His main contention in this book is that modern wheat – not the historic stuff from 200 years ago – is to blame.

Wheat has changed, food scientists will admit that. Modern high yield wheat has drastically changed agriculture. Fewer farmers are needed to feed lots more people. He backs up his contention with fancy science facts that I couldn’t really follow, but I agree with him there.

Where I disagree is that while modern diets are terrible, wheat is not the only problem. He seems to think that it is. I would blame carbohydrates in general. Americans eat too many of them. I don’t eat much wheat anymore. I’m on a low carb, high fat diet, LCHF, or a keto diet. I’ve lost a lot of weight and I feel much better. (I’m still fat though. But I’m getting there!) But wheat is not the only problem. What about sugar?

He bases his book on the fact that he’s encouraged his heart patients to cut out the wheat products and they’ve all gotten healthier, but this is what’s called anecdotal evidence. Certainly celiac disease and general gluten intolerance is a major problem now, compared to 100 years ago. And modern wheat farming may be to blame. But what about getting them to cut out fast food? If they’re avoiding wheat, they can’t eat fast food, and maybe that’s responsible for their improved health. Maybe some whole grains would be just fine, as long as they’re not deep fried.

His writing isn’t terrible, but it’s not great, and he is really repetitive. He has a very definite style that will turn a lot of readers off. I can’t say I’d recommend this book to everyone. But if you’re trying to lose weight, I’d say it’s worth looking through. I wouldn’t buy it though. I got my copy from the library’s audiobook collection and I decided not to finish it. I got the idea about 100 pages in and I sure didn’t want to listen to the whole thing. Bottom line – do your own research and don’t believe everything you hear.

Criminal Tales

Title: The Devil & Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession

Author: David Gann

Described as “a collection of spellbinding narrative journalism,” this book contains an amazing assortment of stories. From the opening story about the Sherlock Holmes fan who died in real life mysterious circumstances, to the final profile of a truly nasty criminal, this was a compelling read (or rather, listen, as I got the audiobook from my library. It’s not quite up to his book, The Lost City of Z, but it’s quite good. I think what I missed was something to tie all these stories together. These were pieces that appeared in print previously, so maybe there wasn’t really a thread that tied them together, but I think he could have grouped them differently or something. As it was, it was sort of odd. My favorite story was the one about the sandhogs, construction workers building a giant series of tunnels under NYC. Recommended, but not so strongly that you should add it to the top of your list.

The Seven Dials Mystery

Title: The Seven Dials Mystery

Author: Agatha Christie

Themes: adventure, secret criminal organizations, exotic foreign adventuresses, stolen government plans, and plenty more
Setting: Chimneys in England

If you’ve only read Agatha Christie for her mysteries featuring the famous Belgian sleuth or the mild old lady with the mind like a steel trap, then you have missed some thrilling adventure stories. This one is the second one set at the Stately Home of Chimneys in England. The first one, The Secret of Chimneys, takes place four years earlier and involves the missing heir to the throne of a fictional European country, a stolen government contract, the Comrades of the Black Hand or something like that, and a very satisfying love story. This one differs only in the details; the feel is just the same.

Lady Eileen Brent, known to all as Bundle, discovers that a young man of her acquaintance has died in her home. They had let it to a wealthy industrialist, and during a house party, the man had died in his sleep. Now Bundle nearly runs over the dead man’s best friend, who dies of a gunshot wound in her arms, whispering the words, “Tell – Seven Dials – Jimmy Thessinger.” Bundle rushes off to find Jimmy and enlist him in her fight against this evil criminal gang.

Really, really fun. I listened to this one, and I do have a few complaints about the audio version. The reader, whose name I can’t locate, did fine with the voices of most of the major characters, but she had a tendency to make the rest of the young girls screechy and shrill. I didn’t like Superintendent Battle’s accent either. She did a good job at making them all sound different, but she was much too screechy now and then, and the American woman at the very end was just dreadful. No one sounds like that. Ever.

If you want an exciting, clean adventure with some romance and not a lot to slow it down, try the stand alone titles by Agatha Christie. I also love The Man in the Brown Suit, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, and They Came to Baghdad. 5 stars for book, 4 for audio.

Review: Dead Wake

Title: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Author: Erik Larson

Setting: NYC and Atlantic Ocean, May 1915

Story: The RMS Lusitania was one of the top luxury liners of the day, filled with the bright and beautiful (and a bunch of 2nd & 3rd class passengers too.) Millionaires, actors, writers, debutantes and spies all crowded aboard this ship. Besides the passengers, the ship was carrying beautiful paintings by Van Gogh and other masters, editions signed by Dickens and Thackeray, gold bullion, and lots of ammunition. So when it went down, the news traveled fast, and eventually resulted in the United States entering World War I.

Review: I knew a little bit about the Lusitania, but I’d never heard the whole story. I’ve read other books by this author, so when I found this one on audio at the library, I couldn’t wait to check it out.

The numbers are pretty sobering. Out of 1962 passengers and crew, only 764 survived. But what makes it more interesting than the statistics is the way Larson tells the story. By using journals and letters that survived the voyage, he lets you get inside the ship and travel right along with them on their final voyage. I had my favorite people and I was trying not to skip ahead, but I admit that I couldn’t stand it and had to look up who survived and who died.

I have a couple of criticisms about the book though. The first is that he spends all this time talking about President Woodrow Wilson’s courtship of Edith Bolling. Wilson’s state of mind and his love life weren’t really relevant to the story. His reluctance to enter the war was relevant and didn’t get enough discussion.

Also, I was left wondering about the passengers who survived. What percentage of them were first class? Did it matter where their cabins were? How many were women and children? Maybe he answered these questions, but since it was on audio, I could have missed that part.

It did definitely get me interested in the story. It was all so sad and so pointless. Why wasn’t the ship more protected? Why hadn’t Wilson done more to help with the war already? I was totally involved in this story. I’m giving it 4.2 stars out of 5.

 

Burn, Rewrite, Reread

I’m stealing this one from the girls over at TwinTales because it was so much fun to read their picks. Even though they read a lot of YA and I don’t, it’s still a good idea. I decided to go to my GoodReads shelf for 2015, which I hope is recent enough that I still remember what I thought about the books. I also decided to do all mysteries, to tie them together.

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Burn: Belladonna at Belstone by Michael Jecks, #8 in Knights Templar series. It’s funny, because I just praised this series in a previous post, but this one was quite a disappointment. I would have said burning it was great, but of the mysteries I found, this was my least favorite. It’s set in a convent and it seemed like NONE of the nuns were keeping any of their vows. OK, maybe poverty, but there was so much sex in here that it was hard to keep track of. If you want to try this series, DO NOT start here. You’ll be so sad.

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Rewrite: A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmondson, #1 in A Very English Mystery series. This one wasn’t bad, it was just too predictable. I have read a LOT of mysteries, so maybe that was the problem, but I felt that some of the characters were more types than actually rounded, real characters. Also the identity of the killer was not a surprise at all. I would have liked this one to be more unexpected.

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Reread: Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz. Everything that I found lacking in the previous books was here, and then some. Just when I thought I knew where this book was going, Horowitz turned it completely on its edge and I was just stunned! I listened to this one, which heightened the suspense and made it even better, but wow, it was amazing! One of my few five star reads for that year. The characters and the plot were outstanding. Even if you are only a casual fan of Sherlock Holmes, you have to read this one!

Hope you enjoyed my picks. I’ll have to do this again with fantasy or sci fi reads too. Happy reading!

Book Review: The Woman on the Orient Express

Title: The Woman on the Orient Express

Author: Lindsay Jayne Ashford

Format: Kindle Unlimited lets you listen and read, so audio & ebook

Setting: Traveling through Europe to Mesopotamia, 1928

Story: Agatha Christie is running away. Again. Her unfaithful husband has finally pushed a divorce through and is remarrying. Agatha decides a trip is just the thing, but she’s still pretty miserable. She decides to travel incognito, and meets two women on her trip, Kathleen and Nancy. Everyone is hiding something, and it will end (eventually) with someone dead.

I liked this story. I picked it up mainly because I am such a fan of Agatha Christie, and Murder on the Orient Express is one of my favorites. Plus, it was such a romantic journey in its time – bridging two separate worlds, going somewhere completely new. This was based in fact, but still fiction. Christie did take the Orient Express to Baghdad and she did go out to an archaeological dig there. Some of the people, including Max, are based on real people. But I don’t want to reveal too much.

I would recommend this one mainly for fans of Agatha Christie. It moved slowly sometimes and I think the ending was a little disappointing, but it was still fun.