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Tribune of Rome by Robert Fabbri

Tribune of Rome (Vespasian, #1)Tribune of Rome by Robert Fabbri

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For lovers of historical fiction set in ancient Rome this is a must read.
The book covers only a very short period of Vespasian’s life, starting with an omen after his birth and then jumping to him when he is about 16 years old and soon going to Rome to make his career. It describes how he becomes involved in a conspiracy against conspirators, how he then joins the army and the following events.

This is nothing for the faint at heart. If you thought the crucifixions and decimation in "Fortunes’ Favourites" by Colleen McCullough were bad, be prepared for worse. Robert Fabbri doesn’t gloss over anything. His decriptions are vivid and brutal, gruesome and bloody. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Nevertheless, even I – and I am quite a sissy – made it through and loved it. I wasn’t even done with this book yet, when I ordered the next book in the series, so I can continue reading right away.

View all my reviews

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My bookish Christmas gifts

Two bookish gifts for me that I am really looking forward to read and watch:

A cabinet of Roman curiosities

A cabinet of Roman curiosities by J.C. McKeown.

This one has been on my wishlist for a long time. In structure it reminds me a bit of Schott’s Miscellany, in that it is just a number of “strange tales and surprising facts”.

 

Night train to Lisbon

 

The movie “Night train to Lisbon” with Jeremy Irons. I just hope they didn’t butcher the wonderful Nachtzug nach Lissabon by Pascal Mercier. Relying on Bille August here.

Will be watching it tonight. 

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A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome by Alberto Angela

Cover A day in the life of ancient Rome by Alberto Angela 

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

We accompany the author during his day wandering around ancient Rome, sightseeing, admiring, explaining things.

Language I read the book in: German (Ein Tag im alten Rom)

Did I like it? Yes

For people who: like Ancient Rom and history made come to life by describing daily occurrences.


My thoughts: 

If you are interested in ancient Rome this book is a must read.

Alberto Angela takes us on a guided tour around Rome at the time of Trajan. We start in the very early morning in the house of a rich man, move on to shops, insulae, taverns, tempels, the baths, banquets and the Colosseum. We explore every aspect of daily ancient Roman life, breakfast, cooking, shopping, eating out, religion, entertainment, childbirth, teaching, dying….

Everything is presented in a very digestible way, explained properly with the appropriate background and shown from all sides (e.g. slavery or gladiators).

Where possible we are told about archaeological discoveries that back up the fictional stories (for example a fight between two gladiators that was documented on a mosaic, so detailed that even the names of the fighters were recorded).

There are only a few illustrations, no models, photos or other visual helpers to conjure Rome, but that is not necessary. Every chapter was so interesting and entertaining that I finished this book in no time. The German subtitle of this book is “Common, mysterious and astonishing facts”, and it completely lives up to that. Highly recommended.

Mr. Angela has one more book on the subject of ancient Rome out and one coming out in June that I will have to track down now.


Product info and buy link :

Title A day in the life of ancient Rome
Author Alberto Angelo
Publisher Europa Editions
ISBN 9781933372716
I got this book from the library
Buy link Buy A day in the life of ancient Rome

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

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This post is part of the This isn’t Fiction Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.

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Book beginnings on Friday

Boog beginnings on Friday

fortunes_favourites

My beginning today is from “Fortune’s Favourites” by Colleen McCullough. It’s the third book in the Masters of Rome series.

Though the steward held his five-flamed lamp high enough to illuminate the two recumbent figures in the bed, he knew its light had not the power to waken Pompey.

I am surprised that Pompey is the first person we read about at the beginning, but we will see where this goes.

What is YOUR book beginning today? To see more book beginnings go to Rose City Reader!

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The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough

Cover The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough 

In a nutshell:

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? YES

For people who: like ancient history, historical fiction, ancient Rome, political scheming, power struggles, warfare


My thoughts: 

It took me almost a year from buying this book to finishing it, exactly as I predicted in May 2012. But this is in no way a reflection on the quality of it. If you are watching my Goodreads feed then you might have noticed that reading sped up considerably a couple of weeks ago, the point when I managed to get this book as an e-book. Usually I prefer paper to e-book, but in this case reading the e-book is so much better. Carrying 900 pages around is no fun – at all.

It is impossible to talk about the plot of this novel as so many people’s lives are explored and so many things happen that, once you reach the end of this book, you are just stunned!

To mention a few of the occurrences: the book covers the efforts of Marcus Livius Drusus to enfranchise the Italian allies, the subsequent so-called Social War, the start of the war against Mithridates, the rise of Sulla and his march on Rome, the fall of Gaius Marius, his seventh consulship and the short reign of terror the follows it. And by covering I mean  covering in detail. Even though sometimes a lot of time elapses between events, everything  is told and explained carefully, what caused it, who was on whose side, what were the consequences. Once more the amount of research that went into this book just astounded me.

After you read this book you think you know all those Romans. You might not completely understand them, as their mindset is a different one, but to a certain extent you can follow their reasoning and realize why they could not have acted differently – except for Marius at the end, but then, he was as mad as a hatter.

The book ends with Gaius Marius’ death, and I am already looking forward to the sequel. A lot of the people playing a major part in the first two books are dead now, but new ones are coming up on the horizon, Pompey (whose father Pompey Strabo here dies from an illness instead of from lightning, which I found a bit strange), Gaius Julius Caesar (who received a most unwelcome appointment at the end of this book ), Cicero – and of course, Sulla has yet to fight his Pontic war and return to Rome. Exciting times are lying ahead of us!


Product info and buy link :

Title The Grass Crown
Author Colleen McCullough
Publisher Arrow Books
ISBN 9780099462491
I got this book from I bought it
Buy link Buy The Grass Crown
More info Masters of Rome series
Still more info Gaius Marius and Sulla

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

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Ancient Rome on five denarii a day by Philip Matyszak

Cover Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day by Phili Matyszak

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

A time-traveler’s guide to sightseeing, shopping, and survival in the city of the Caesars.

Language I read the book in: German

Did I like it? It was quite entertaining.

For people who: would like to know a bit about ancient Rome without going into detail; would like to read an entertaining guide instead of a history book.


My thoughts: 

 

This is a fun little guide. Written like a contemporary travel guide it covers areas like hot to get to Rome, being a guest in a Roman household, where to find entertainment, where to shop etc. Pretty nice and enjoyable.

Interspersed are illustrations and little tidbits and trivia that add an extra touch. Want to know where certain modern words come from? About the state of Roman rented flats? You can learn a quite a lot about ancient Rome here. However, don’t expect too much depth! This book only lightly scratches the surface of what is to know, so if you want in depth knowledge you have to look elsewhere.

Two things that bothered me is that I was not sure in what time period I was visiting the city. From what is being said I assume it must be after Commodus (I think he is the last emperor that was mentioned), that would leave us at some point after 192 AD. I would have liked to know in what time I am travelling.

Also I did not particularly like the fact that often something was explained with a “and this will still be so 2000 years later” added at the end. This dulled the “contemporary” experience as it became clear that we are not in that period anymore. Of course, I am very much aware of that fact, but in a truly “fake” contemporary guide there should not be hints at what is going to happen in the future.

All in all, however, an enjoyable short read. If you are not already hooked on Ancient Rome, it might prompt you to read more about it.

You can find a small sample of the book in my Weekend Cooking post from last weekend where I talked about a delicious ancient Roman recipe that I found in this guide.


Product info and buy link :

 

Title Ancient Rome on five denarii a day
Author Philip Matyszak
Publisher Thames & Hudson Ltd.
ISBN 9780500051474
I got this book from the library
Buy link Buy Ancient Rome on five denarii a day

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

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This post is part of the This isn’t Fiction Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.

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Weekend cooking Ancient Roman style

Last week I read “Ancient Rome of five denarii a day” by Philip Matyszak, a book about ancient Rome, disguised as a contemporary travel guide. As a travel guide should it also covers the local culinary specialties. Today I would like to share one recipe from Apicius. It shows quite clearly that the Romans’ idea of a good meal and ours differ quite a bit.

Dormouse

Image via Wikipedia Commons

Glires (dormice)

Ingredients:

  • Lean pork
  • offal of dormice (if you have no dormice, a hamster or field mouse will do). Keep the dormice, you will need it in a bit.
  • ground black pepper
  • assorted nuts
  • a few leaves of laser (if you have no laser, arugula will do). You can find more on laser here.
  • a bit of liquamen (or garum). More on that here.

Crush everything in a mortar and stuff the dormice with the mixture. Cook in broth or roast in the oven (make sure the ears don’t get burnt).

Definitely different from what we would consider a delicious meal.

This post is part of

Weekend cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. For the other weekend cooking posts please go there.

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In my mailbox

 

A few things today that I am really looking forward to:

I bought

  • Not a book, but I am excited about it. I bought the first season of Downton Abbey after seeing a little of the first episode. Everybody talks about it. I want to know what all the hype is about – late as usual.

From the library

 

Cover Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day by Phili MatyszakCover Our tragic universe by Scarlett ThomasDowntown Abbey

What was in YOUR mailbox recently? 

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Book beginnings on Friday

Boog beginnings on FridayCover The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough

My book beginning today is from “The Grass Crown”, a book I am eager to start after reading its prequel, “The first man in Rome”. That book’s beginning, by the way, you can find here.

“The most exciting thing that’s happened during the last fifteen months,” said Gaius Marius, “is the elephant Gaius Claudius showed at the ludi Romani.”

That was to be expected. At the end of the last book it was obvious that the following few months would be calm, so this beginning comes as no surprise.

 

What is YOUR book beginning today? To see more book beginnings go to Rose City Reader!

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The first man in Rome by Colleen McCullough

firstman

If you think Colleen McCullough only wrote tear jerkers like “The Thorn Birds”, you better think again.

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

Gaius Marius is climbing up the career ladder and becomes consul six times in a row. Sulla evolves from a debauched pauper to a military man occupying his rightful place in the Roman society.

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? VERY much so.

For people who: like ancient history, historical fiction, ancient Rome, political scheming, power struggles, warfare


My thoughts: 

Starting to read:

I really like the beginning with Marius bearing a grudge because his chances of being consul are diminishing, and Sulla bemoaning his plight of being a pauper in spite of being a true Patrician. I sympathize with both of them. But, oh, this is going to be a long read. Tons of names and situations to remember (in Rome, Numidia, Numantia etc.) and a lot of back history.

Later on:

The story is picking up a bit of speed. Well, not really, but things are happening. Marius’ marriage, Sulla’s coming into fortune (which happens in a very strange way – it is his doing, but it all starts with something that looks like fate – the grass crown working for him?). Sulla is such a cunning devil – but very ingenious, I like him. Of course this is historical fiction and I don’t remember much about his biography I once read, so it might all be a complete fabrication; I need to re-read that biography afterwards to check.

The war against Jugurtha is in full swing now and Marius is getting his future told by Martha. I am enjoying how Colleen McCullough is setting things up, alternating between the political/military world of Marius and the  civilian and rather debauched life that Sulla is leading until now. You know that those two figures will meet soon and the anticipation is great!

The number of people in the book is mind boggling. The fact that father and son often are called the same (if you are lucky one is “the elder”, one “the younger” or they have a different cognomen) doesn’t make it any easier. So you have to be on your toes every minute in order to know who talks to whom about whom,
At times when I interrupted reading the book for a few days and came back I had to get back into all the names again even though I am not completely unfamiliar with them.

There is no point in talking about the plot of this book any further, so I will only mention a few snippets. It is the first book in a series dealing with real people and the number of events and historical facts mentioned and embellished is just too enormous.  The war against Jugurtha, Aurelia’s marriage to Gaius Julius Caesar, Livia Drusa’s marriage to Caepio and her infatuation with her unknown “Ulysses”, the siege of Burdigala, armies annihilated because one arrogant patrician won’t merge his army with a new man’s, the defeat of the Germans, Sulla’s German family and so on and on…

Towards the end:

We go back in time a bit again to hear about Aurelia’s life in her insula while Gaius Julius Caesar is away in Gaul. Oh, how interesting this is! We all know what an insula is, but here we learn how it is set up, how many and what kinds of people used to live in  that particular one, about the management of it and about the problems a landlady encounters. Aurelia is a tough woman and understands how things are done in the Subura very quickly. We learn about the extortion business in the area with the crossroads tavern as the headquarter and how Aurelia even tames the local assassin until he becomes her humble servant.

The book ends with another bang. A terrible murder has been committed and as a result there is a short, effective, yet unbloody, war inside the pomerium. The last few pages indicate that for once a few quiet months lie ahead. I am sure this is what everybody needs after the last six years.

All in all:

What I liked most is that these are all historical facts which are told in a fictional way. I don’t know how many of those situations are true and how many are invented, but they throw a colorful life on a period about which most of us know just dates and parentage and wars.
We all know that Gaius Julius Caesar’s parents were Aurelia and Gaius Julius Caesar. This might be good enough, but here we read about how Aurelia’s uncle not only suggests to her parents to let her choose her own husband, which is very unconventional to say the least, if not scandalous, and how he plays matchmaker. We all know that Livia Drusa is the mother of Servilia who will later become Caesar’s lover. But here we read about how she was forced by her brother to marry Caepio in a way that makes every modern woman shudder.
It gives life to people that we normally only know as names.

Even if you are only vaguely interested in ancient Rome, this book is an absolute must read. If you have never read anything about ancient Rome before and don’t care for it either, read this as any other fictional novel and you will have tasted blood.

At the end of the book there is a huge glossary as interesting as the novel itself. It explains not only  decisions Colleen McCullough made (e.g. Julia’s sister Julilla marrying Sulla, which would account for a few things that will happen later on and for which we have no explanation), but also certain Roman customs, names, relations and so on. On top of that the book comes with a number of maps and floor plans that the author drew herself. I can’t get over the amount of research that went into this book, let alone the whole series. I can’t wait to continue with The Grass Crown.


Location: Ancient Rome, around 100BC

Bust of Gaius MariusBust of Lucius Cornelius SullaRuins of the forum by Canaletto, 1742

Images from Wikipedia


Movie tip

Julius Caesar mini series

 

 


Product info and buy link :

Title The first man in Rome
Author Colleen McCullough
Publisher Arrow Books
ISBN 9780099462484
I got this book from I swapped it
Buy link Buy The first man in Rome
More info Masters of Rome series
still more info Gaius Marius and Sulla

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

This post is part of

Tea & Books Reading Challenge

The Tea & Books Reading Challenge is hosted by The Book Garden.

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The Accusers by Lindsey Davis

Cover The Accusers by Lindsey DavisA quick lesson in ancient Roman law.

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

Marcus gets caught up in a lawsuit by providing some evidence against the accused. When the convicted man commits suicide so that his family can keep all their property the accuser (who would have received all the dosh) suspects foul play and hires Marcus to find out the truth.

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? Yes, very much.

For people who: like Ancient Roman sleuths, courtroom dramas, Perry Mason & Matlock


My thoughts: 

Starting to read:

I didn’t remember how fun Marcus Didius Falco can be. I didn’t think the first book with him (The Silver Pigs) was so great but since then there were some books that I really really liked, like A Body in the Bathhouse, Ode to a Banker or Three hands in the Fountain. I think this is going to be one of them.

Such fun to read that people in ancient Rome were complaining about the same sorry state of affairs as we do nowadays, just a little different:

No wonder our roads are blocked with dead mules’ carcasses and the aqueducts leak.

Later on:

The evidence reports from Falco to Silius and various other reports and minutes give this an official touch and court room flavour. Also it is a very practical method to skip over a lot of rather boring interrogations. It gives us the gist without going through every conversation with the last minor witness. 

What is the business with the door slave? What happened two years ago? Why did the sibling not defy the will of the deceased? Why were they all excluded and Saffia put in? Metellus was found guilty of corruption, but where has all the money gone?

As you might know I have very little reading time, but I only have the book for another day. More than 190 pages left, so I am neglecting my household duties in order to finish it. I am totally obsessed with the story by now,

Towards the end:

The story has taken a turn for the worse (for our hero sleuths) and I am very curious to see how they will wriggle out of it – I am sure, they will somehow come out on top of everything.

All in all:

A very satisfying detective story and ending (and a VERY fitting title, too). It is not action filled but mainly relies on the spoken word (with the exception of a couple of fisticuffs as can be expected in Rome).

The main theme of this novel is the judiciary system in ancient Rome, its corruption and – to us – rather inexplicable “justice”. From serious accusation of blasphemy made by civilians, to corruption charges for the sake of monetary gain, to false murder charges and the resulting financial recompensation, to the torturing of slaves in order to obtain a valid statement, it is all there. Hereditary law as well as illegitimate offspring and the consequences for the child, everything you ever wanted to know (on a general level) you will find out in this story.

This is an absolutely delightful read; I need to get my hands on another Marcus Didius Falco book now.


Location: Ancient Rome around 75AD

ColloseumColosseum

Images from wikipedia. Marie-Claire and  Diliff


Product info and buy link :

Title The Accusers
Author Lindsey Davis
Publisher Mysterious Press
ISBN 9780446693295
I got this book from the library
Buy link Buy The Accusers. This is the Arrow Books edition
More info Lindsey Davis’ website

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

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Book beginnings on Friday

Boog beginnings on FridayCover The Accusers by Lindsey Davis

My book beginning today is from another detective novel set in ancient Rome, about 40 years later than Bodies Politic, in 75AD. The Accusers is the 15th book in the very popular Marcus Didius Falco series by Lindsey Davis.

I had been an informer for over a decade when I finally learned what the job entailed.

About time, I would say….

What is YOUR book beginning today? To see more book beginnings go to Rose City Reader!

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In my mailbox


Hosted by The Story Siren

I received the rest of my order from Awesome Books this week, plus a few other things I am really looking forward to. A good book week, indeed!

I swapped

I bought

  • 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith. This is the first book in the series. I was only waiting for this one so I can start reading.
  • A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh & Dorothy L. Sayers. This is the second Lord Peter Wimsey book that Jill Paton Walsh wrote/finished/co-wrote after “Thrones, Dominations”. Should be good.

For review

  • Beyond Snapshots by Rachel Devina and Peta Mazey. How to take that fancy DSLR camera off “Auto” and photograph your life like a pro.
    I had totally forgotten that I requested this on Netgalley because it was months ago. The approval came only now – strange! But I will enjoy reading this.

From the library

  •   The Accusers by Lindsey Davis. The 15th novel in the Marcus Didius Falco series. It is not my favourite Roman sleuth, but some of the books in this series are really good.

Cover The museum of innocence by Orhan PamukCover 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall SmithCover A presumption of death by Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy L. Sayers

Cover The Accusers by Lindsey DavisCover Beyond snapshots

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Bodies politic by David Wishart

Cover Bodies Politic by David Wishart

Conspiracies and wedding preparations in ancient Rome.

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

Marcus Valerius Corvinus is setting out to vindicate Macro who was forced to commit suicide by his former bosom buddy, the Emperor.

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? Yes, this is another great addition to the series

For people who… like the Marcus Corvinus series, mysteries set in Ancient Rome, wisecracking modern sleuths in a historical environment


My thoughts: 

Starting to read

As opposed to all the earlier books now we are in the reign of Caligula. I kind of like that because not only is Caligula a rather interesting character (maybe not likeable, but colourful), but I also found him in earlier books rather refreshing, especially together with some of his entourage, e.g. Felix and his sidekick. It also helps that I always picture John Hurt as Caligula in my mind.

Marcus Corvinus is once more drawn into an investigation which turns out to be under false pretenses from the start. When I heard that the note that starts it all did not come from Macro I immediately thought of Felix’ scheming, but after visiting Caligula I dismissed this. Maybe, however, this is a double bluff. We’ll see.

Already the lack of continuity in the books is apparent again. Not that it matters that much, but Marcia’s husband is not Paullus, but Fabius. David Wishart sometimes just doesn’t get his names right (see the name of Marcus’ mother or Marcia’s relationship with Fabius in previous books). 

Later on

I have been waiting for this. In all Marcue Corvinus books there is a Deus ex Machina in the shape of Caelius Crispus. Whenever Marcus needs information, secrets that nobody possibly could know, he turns to Caelius Crispus for it. The man is a notorious gossip monger, he knows everything about everybody, a knowledge he uses to climb up the career ladder. He only imparts information reluctantly but always sends Marcus into the right direction nevertheless. He is indispensable for Marcus’ sleuthing, because without him the plot would be stuck.

Towards the end

The political mysteries are always a little convoluted with all the people involved and goings on in the various political camps and parts of the world. This one was even more so, because there were a few separate conspiracies (real and fake ones), so you had to really be on your toes to follow them all. I love the vacation in Alexandria with a bit of local flair. It is also nice to compare it with the same trip of Decius Caecilius Metellus in “The Temple of the Muses”  around 60 B.C.

All in all

This is a very good continuation of the series and I hope that there will be more, especially now that Caligula is emperor. He is a much more lively character than Tiberius and provides a lot of entertainment for the reader (even though not necessarily for the people around him).

If you don’t know the series, I recommend you start with the first book, “Ovid” and work your way through, though.


Location: Ancient Rome at the time of Caligula

CaligulaTemple of Castor and Pollux

Images from wikipedia


Movie tip:

I, Claudius (TV series)

 


Product info and buy link :

Title Bodies Politic
Author David Wishart
Publisher self published
ISBN 9781476446431
I got this book from I bought it from Smashwords
Buy link Buy Bodies politic as e-book from Smashwords
More info The Marcus Corvinus series
Even more info David Wishart’s website

 

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

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In my mailbox


Hosted by The Story Siren

This must be one of my biggest IMM posts ever. I won Birgit’s Old books in a new home giveaway with a stack of cozy mysteries. I am totally made up because I only started reading those recently  and my shelf needed a re-fill. Thank you, Birgit!

 

I swapped

 

I bought

  •   Bodies Politic by David Wishart. This is the latest instalment in the Marcus Corvinus series set in Ancient Rome. David Wishart, whose earlier books used to be published by Hodder and Stoughton, has now changed to a print-on-demand publisher and also chose to publish this as an e-book on Smashwords, DRM free and all. I am pretty excited about this. I already posted its book beginning.

I won

 

Cover Panem et circenes by C.W. Weber Cover Hectors Reise oder die Suche nach dem Glück von Francois LelordCover Hector und die Geheimnisse der Liebe von Francois LelordCover Bodies Politic by David WishartCover The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries Omnibus 1 by Charlaine HarrisCover Death by Darjeeling by Laura ChildsCover Shades of Earl Grey by Laura ChildsCover Murder most frothy by Cleo CoyleCober Latte trouble by Cleo Coyle

Cover Decaffeinated corpse by Cleo CoyleCover French pressed by Cleo CoyleCover Everything I never wanted to be by Dina Kucera

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Book beginnings on Friday

firstman

Today my book beginning is from a book by Colleen McCullough published in 1990, “The first man in Rome”. The story starts in 110B.C.

Having no personal commitment to either of the new consuls, Gaius Julius Caesar and his sons simply tacked themselves onto the procession of the senior consul, Marcus Minucius Rufus.

The story starts with the Caesarian family, even though none of the two main characters is a Julian. Maybe this is because everybody has heard of the Julians, even though this particular Gaius Julius, of course, is not the one everybody is immediately thinking of. Also, Gaius Marius, one of the two protagonists, is/will be Gaius Julius Caesar’s son in law (not sure whether he and Julia are married already at this point).

Anyway, the beginning of a new consular year is always a good time to start a story. Only about 800 pages to go…

What is YOUR book beginning today? To see more book beginnings go to Rose City Reader!

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Book beginnings on Friday

 ovid_wishart

Today’s book beginning is from “Ovid” by David Wishart. It is the first instalment in a historical detective novel series, set in ancient Rome at the time of Tiberius’ rule. The very contemporary speech of the hero is one of the trademarks of those books, by the way.

I’d been at a party on the Caelian the night before. My tongue tasted like a gladiator’s jockstrap, my head was pounding like Vulcan’s smithy, and if you’d held up a hand, and asked me how many fingers you’d got i’d’ve been hard put to give a definite answer without using an abacus. My usual morning condition, in other words, and hardly the best state for a first meeting with a tough cookie like the Lady Rufia Perilla.

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What I like…besides books: TV – Rome

As I said before, I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I love watching TV series on DVD. I am very interested in ancient Rome, so when my husband came along with the HBO series “Rome” I was excited. The series is by no means historically correct, but it is great entertainment nevertheless. I wish they would continue it. Just because the republic is dead it doesn’t mean the story is over, does it?

The following is a scene from season 2, a wonderful fight between Marcus Antonius and Octavian, taking place shortly after Caesar’s death.

 

This is the death of Cicero who gets killed by Pullo, one of the two main fictional characters. I chose this one specifically because Cicero is played by David Bamber you will all know from his wonderful performance as Mr. Collins.

 

Yeah, a lot of people end up dead, but look at the way they die! Here it is Servilia, Brutus’ mother. Marcus Antonius is right, what an exit!

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Illegally dead by David Wishart

Blurb: When Corvinus receives a letter, with a tantalising PS, from his adopted daughter, Marilla, mentioning there might have been a murder, he hot-foots it to Castrimoenium at once. Not that everyone agrees that Lucius Hostilius was murdered. Poison was apparently the means of death, but Lucius was terminally ill: it was only a matter of time. Although he hasn’t any official investigative status, Corvinus can’t resist doing a little amateur sleuthing. And he has barely begun when two other corpses turn up and he is formally on the case. Lucius had been suffering something of a personality change because of his illness, so there is no shortage of suspects among friends and family whom he had antagonised. But Corvinus goes up many a blind alley before arriving at the heart of the mystery. As we follow Marcus Corvinus, clue by clue, on his twelfth case, we allow ourselves to be pleasurably diverted by rumours of Meton’s love life – and by an authentic recipe for fish pickle sauce . . .

My thoughts: What can I say? I absolutely love Marcus Corvinus, this wise cracking, wine-loving nobleman is by far my favourite Roman historical detective. This is his twelfth case and just as intriguing as all the others. But what makes David Wishart’s Corvinus books such great reads are not only the great characters, but also the descriptions of ancient Roman life. What I always find a bit distracting are the translations of Roman words that everybody knows anyway into English, which takes a bit of fun out of it, for example a toga is a mantle etc. But once one gets used to that, it’s ok.

The story is set in Castrimoenium again, a place we already know from “A vote for murder”. But where the first took us into the world of politics and property development, “Illegally dead” deals almost exclusively with lawyers and the Roman law.

Castrimoenium also seems to be THE playground for Meton, the pretty greasy but skilled chef of Corvinus’. Too funny to read what he’s up to now again.

If you like Ancient Roman detective stories the Marcus Corvinus series is a must. I put together a Marcus Corvinus mystery series list on amazon to view the books in chronological order.

Available on Amazon

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Weekly geeks 2009-11: Historical fiction

This weeks weekly geek:
Is there a particular era that you love reading about? Tell us about it–give us a book list, if you’d like. Include pictures or some fun facts from that time period, maybe link to a website that focuses on that time. Educate us.
Do you have a favorite book that really pulled you back in time, or perhaps gave you a special interest in that period? Include a link to a review of it on another book blog if you can find one (doesn’t have to be a Weekly Geek participant).
A member of your book group, Ashley, mentions that she almost never reads Historical Fiction because it can be so boring. It’s your turn to pick the book for next month and you feel it’s your duty to prove her wrong. What book do you pick?
If you’re in agreement with Ashley on this one (or even if you’re not): Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to browse through this week’s WG posts, and by the end of the week, pick a book from one of the posts to read. Report on which book you picked, linking to the Weekly Geeks post where you found it.

Cicero attacking Catilina

Great topic. When I read historical fiction and/or historical detective novels it is mostly set in ancient Rome. I absolutely love reading about this time. I don’t want to say that my love of Ancient Rome started with Asterix, but it was my first contact with the Romans. I think that the books that really started me to get into all things Roman were "I, Claudius" and "Claudius, the God" by Robert Graves. I read them when I was still young and absolutely loved them. I remember that we used to watch the TV series with Derek Jacobi as Claudius and the excellent John Hurt as Caligula. All the actors were brilliant, and I don’t give a toss about the fact that the show doesn’t meet nowadays’ standards of filmmaking. I still love to watch it. But back to books (not all of them are fiction).

So, "I Claudius" started it all, but there are a lot of other great books out there. Just to name a few:

Imperium by Robert Harris, a fictional biography of Cicero

Rubicon by Tom Holland, the last years of the Roman Republic

Cicero by Anthony Everett

Augustus by Anthony Everett

Another book I highly recommend is Caligula by Aloys Winterling. Is is not published yet in English, but it will be out in May according to amazon. It is a biography that shows Caligula from a different perspective and claims that his reputation as a dangerous nutcase tyrant might not be justified after all.

For a nice bit of gossip you could turn to Suetonius "The twelve Caesars". The private secretary of Hadrian, he got all his material from the imperial archives and eye witnesses (and probably hearsay).

If you are into historical detective novels, there are a few series out there that are wonderful reads. People always criticize that the heroes are way too modern and can’t possibly be children of their time, but if you don’t mind this, you’re in for entertaining hours. The ones I’m mentioning below usually take a historical incident and put a spin on it. So they might not be realistic, but they usually encourage me to find out more about that time period and that is a good thing.

The SPQR series by John Maddox Roberts is delightful, however not much as far as the detecting is concerned. Set in the time between end of the republic and during Caesar’s reign.

The Marcus Corvinus Mysteries series by David Wishart. Set during the reign of Tiberius. One of my favourite detectives. He wisecracks his way through his adventures, it’s not funny anymore (well, it is). And he loves his wine.

I can’t resist to add another film recommendation. Rome is purely fictional again, but of course with lots of historical figures thrown in. A wonderful entertaining show that I can watch again and again. And just a little side note: David Bamber, who played the deliciously slimy Mr. Collins in the BBC mini series Pride and Prejudice, plays here the somewhat opportunistic Cicero in an equally captivating fashion. Absolutely loved him.