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  • Semper Fidelis

  • A Novel of the Roman Empire
  • By: Ruth Downie
  • Narrated by: Simon Vance
  • Length: 9 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 604
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 542
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 534

As mysterious injuries, and even deaths, begin to appear in the medical ledgers, it's clear that all is not well amongst the native recruits to Britannia's imperial army. Is the much-decorated centurion Geminus preying on his weaker soldiers? And could this be related to the appearance of Emperor Hadrian? Bound by his sense of duty and ill-advised curiosity, Ruso begins to ask questions nobody wants to hear. Meanwhile his barbarian wife Tilla is finding out some of the answers....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Hadrian is here!

  • By Margaret on 05-13-13

Why doesn’t the BBC make a series based on these?!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-11-18

I think the “Medicus” books would make a wonderful series! I love them, and just think of the costuming, the period sets, using actual archeological sites with some clever effects. Something like the Doctor Blake Mysteries set 2000 years ago. How could this not be a success? Anyway, in the meantime I’ll have to use my imagination and enjoy Simon Vance’s wonderful readings of these books. Mind you, if anyone did make a series, I’d first read the books and then see how the film version matches up to what I imagined. These are absolutely delightful books. But I can’t imagine you reading the reviews of this volume and not already being a fan. And if you are not yet a fan, start with the first in the series. And have a great time!

  • Barnaby Rudge

  • By: Charles Dickens
  • Narrated by: Simon Vance
  • Length: 24 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 183
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 134
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 135

In a case of mistaken identification, Barnaby Rudge, a pale half-wit with long red hair who dresses all in green and carries a large raven on his back, is arrested as the leader of a mob of anti-Catholic rioters. He is condemned to death on the gallows, but an upright locksmith named Gabriel Varden comes to his aid.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Overlong but under-rated Dickens

  • By David on 08-14-09

Become a Dickens fan first, then listen to this

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-05-18

There is much of value in this book - the depiction of the Gordon Riots, in particular, is of interest and importance. There are aspects of these riots - violence against a minority instigated by inciteful talk by important people and carried out by the riffraff (and a naive Barnaby Rudge of the title) - that are, sadly, too relevant today. One can understand from these riots how easily it is to rile up a crowd to commit a pogrom in the name of religion with hatred towards others of another religion for no real reason. Unfortunately, Dickens devotes too much of the book to building the stories of the various characters, and much of those stories seem superfluous. In fact, it is not even clear what value the title character, Barnaby Rudge, adds to the main point of the story. He is a “simple” person, often called an “idiot”, of limited intellect, with a devoted mother. Her husband is a fugitive murderer. These three characters (and Grip the raven) could have been omitted, and all that surrounds them (Stagg, Rudge Sr.’s accomplice) without detracting much from what to me are the more interesting aspects of the story. Haredale could be Emma’s ward without the whole additional complications of those characters, and the animosity between Haredale and Chester would be intact, relevant to the story because Haredale (and Emma) are Catholic while Chester (and his son, who loves Emma) are Protestant, but it is a deeper animosity, and I was left puzzled about the actual source of Chester’s treachery. That he is a villain is clear, but why? As always, Dickens’ language and writing is superb, and much of this book is excellent. Simon Vance’s reading is, also as always, superb. If you are a Dickens fan, you ought to listen to this book to familiarize yourself with all his works, and be left with much to contemplate (and many analyses of this book to consider if you agree or not). But if you are not yet a Dickens fan, it is best to start with some of his other books.

  • The Black Tulip

  • By: Alexandre Dumas
  • Narrated by: Rosalyn Landor
  • Length: 8 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 26
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 14
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 13

The novel, a deceptively simple story, is set in Holland in 1672 during the amazing tulipmania of the 17th century that brought wealth to some and ruin to many. The story weaves the historical events surrounding the brutal murder of John de Witte and his brother Cornelius into a tale of romantic love. The novel is also a political allegory in which Dumas makes his case against tyranny and puts all his energies into creating a symbol of justice and tolerance: the fateful tulipa negra.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Superb performance of a good story

  • By DFK on 09-14-18

Superb performance of a good story

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-14-18

The story is good, with a different setting - both time and place - from the other Dumas books I’m familiar with. The plot line was good, though as the story progressed the end was predictable. The characters are well-developed, and brought to life so much more by Rosalyn Landor’s superb reading. It is rare to find a woman who can do the male voices so well. This narrator did an amazing job of it and I wish that she narrated more books aside from the romances she does, which are not my usual fare. Actually, this is a romance, too, but I would say that is not the main point of the story.

  • Out of Africa

  • By: Isak Dineson
  • Narrated by: Julie Harris
  • Length: 2 hrs and 57 mins
  • Abridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 902
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 809
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 808

Danish countess Karen Blixon, known as Isak Dineson, ran a coffee plantation in Kenya in the years when Africa remained a romantic and formidable continent to most Europeans. Out of Africa is her account of her life there, with stories of her respectful relationships with the Masai, Kikuyu, and Somali natives who work on her land; the European friends who visit her; and the imposing permanence of the wild, high land itself.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • I did not expect to enjoy this

  • By Tyler Tanner on 10-08-14

Spotty quality recording; Colonial Africa

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-06-18

Out of Africa has lovely language and is a sweet depiction of one white woman’s experience as a coffee farmer in colonial Africa. The depiction of the natives, the “squatters”, etc. is all very paternalistic, from the perspective of a kind-hearted colonialist. Though we heard some questions of who really owns the land, this problem is not the focus of the book nor the narrator’s problem. I don’t want to write any spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that. It’s a pleasant enough listen, and the narration is good (though I would have thought that she ought to pronounce “the” with a long e before a vowel and found that annoying), but the recording itself is quite spotty. You can too easily tell when she stopped and restarted recording. I bought this as a daily special, so it was worth the small amount that I paid.

  • Caveat Emptor: A Novel of the Roman Empire

  • By: Ruth Downie
  • Narrated by: Simon Vance
  • Length: 10 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 708
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 580
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 582

Ruso and Tilla, now newlyweds, have moved back to Britannia, where Ruso's old friend and colleague Valens has promised to help him find work. But it isn't the kind of work he'd had in mind - Ruso is tasked with hunting down a missing tax man named Julius Asper. Of course, there's also something else missing: money. And the council of the town of Verulamium is bickering over what's become of it. Compelled to delve deeper by a threat from his old sparring partner, Metellus, Ruso discovers that the good townsfolk may not be as loyal to Rome as they like to appear.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Ruth Downie doesn't dissapoint

  • By Bonnie on 03-04-11

I simply adore this series

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-03-18

I have enjoyed immensely every one of the Roman Empire series so far (this is the fourth) and am looking forward to listening to the next volume, though I like to “reward” myself with one of these after listening to some other books that are on my “to listen to” list. I enjoy most of the books I choose, some are amazing, but these are an absolute treat. The characters are great, the stories are engaging, the historical setting is fun, and Simon Vance is a gem. If you enjoy any British mystery series on TV (or a series like Doctor Blake Mysteries), you will love these. Trust me!

  • Elmer Gantry

  • By: Sinclair Lewis
  • Narrated by: Anthony Heald
  • Length: 15 hrs and 56 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 510
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 313
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 319

A greedy, philandering Baptist minister, Elmer Gantry turns to evangelism and becomes the leader of a large Methodist congregation. Often exposed as a fraud, he is never fully discredited. Elmer Gantry is considered a landmark American novel and one of the most penetrating studies of hypocrisy in modern literature. It portrays the evangelistic activity that was common in 1920s America as well as attitudes toward it.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Halleluja, Brother Lewis!

  • By Erez on 12-09-08

A century later and still so relevant

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-26-18

The book is excellent - sadly, so relevant a century later. Though the book follows the career of one clergyman in particular, we see a broader picture painted of the clergy and the church that exposes the same hypocrisy, sexual abuse, and the outward false display of Puritanism that we still see today in many churches across all faiths. Gantry is a charismatic religious leader with many of the same flaws that we see in so many religious leaders today. If you are appalled by TV Evangelists, cults like the Prosperity Church, evolution deniers, and all of that ilk, you will definitely find much to appreciate in this book. I think that the book itself could have been edited to be a bit shorter. The narrator was very good, though at times there is not enough distinction among the different characters’ voices.

  • Murder on the Orient Express

  • By: Agatha Christie
  • Narrated by: David Suchet
  • Length: 6 hrs and 49 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 102
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 85
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 84

Just after midnight, a snowdrift stopped the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train was surprisingly full for the time of the year. But by the morning there was one passenger fewer. An American lay dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The only real Poirot David Suchet

  • By juho kojima on 12-03-17

Perhaps knowing the story made me biased

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-05-18

It's really hard to know if I would have liked the book more (and given it 5 stars all around) had I not known the end (I've seen an old movie version and the latest one). It is not identical to the movie, but close enough. I think it moved a bit slow, but it is a good mystery. The performance is superb. There are a number of versions and I selected this one by listening to the sample of each. I was most pleased with my choice. Suchet did a great job of different voices and accents, including the female voices.

  • Devils

  • By: Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Narrated by: George Guidall
  • Length: 28 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 204
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 190
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 190

Exiled to four years in Siberia, but hailed by the end of his life as a saint, prophet, and genius, Fyodor Dostoevsky holds an exalted place among the best of the great Russian authors. One of Dostoevsky’s five major novels, Devils follows the travails of a small provincial town beset by a band of modish radicals - and in so doing presents a devastating depiction of life and politics in late 19th-century Imperial Russia.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Excellent translation and narration

  • By Lawrence on 09-06-13

I’m disappointed

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-30-18

I tremendously enjoyed two of Dostoevsky’s works: Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. Though I did not particularly like The Idiot, I was impressed enough by the other two that considering that some people say that Devils is one of Dostoevsky’s master works, along with Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov (and The Idiot) I was hoping for something totally engaging. This was not. The story drags with some violence thrown in, more and more as we get to the end. I didn’t see any depth to why the psychopathic characters are the way they are. One could venture some hypotheses about how they became so violent and amoral, regardless of whatever cause they think they are acting for. But Dostoevsky doesn’t really give a clue. So as not to spoil it for those who might want to listen to this book, nevertheless (or considering that some people seem to like it), I won’t say more about what these characters do. The performance was good - I’ve enjoyed this narrator more for some of Umberto Eco’s books, but maybe because those books were so good. Here I felt that the different characters were not always distinctive enough.

  • Oil!

  • By: Upton Sinclair
  • Narrated by: Grover Gardner
  • Length: 19 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 574
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 388
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 396

As he did so masterfully in The Jungle, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Upton Sinclair interweaves social criticism with human tragedy to create an unforgettable portrait of Southern California's early oil industry. Enraged by the oil scandals of the Harding administration in the 1920s, Sinclair tells a gripping tale of avarice, corruption, and class warfare, featuring a cavalcade of characters, including senators, oil magnates, Hollywood film starlets, and a crusading evangelist.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • an outstanding book

  • By Gregory on 05-18-08

A lot is really relevant today, sadly

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-05-18

Think the Koch brothers and think about Citizens United and big political contributions. Think about Occupy Wall Street and the big banks who got away with everything. Think about Fox News and “Fox & Friends” and all the “fake news” that is distributed via social media, conspiracy theories, how so much of the public is duped, and so many other ailments of our current society. This story takes place 100 years ago (and a bit more), yet we see it all happening today. The description of the lifestyles of the rich and their hangouts - well, other than the fact that there is no Prohibition, Sinclair could be describing Mara Lago today. Of course there are differences. The direction the Soviet Union took caused even the most socialist-oriented Americans to become disenchanted with Communism. But we certainly can see how the “social democrats” of the book are the forebears of the social democrats of today. Eli of the Third Revelation (meant to be like Aimee McPherson) is so like so many televangelists and faith healers around today. In other words, this is barely fiction, it tells the story of much of what ails the US, and it tells it well, with wit, insight, and cleverness. I loved the book, and Gardner does a great job reading it to us.

  • Terra Incognita

  • A Novel of the Roman Empire
  • By: Ruth Downie
  • Narrated by: Simon Vance
  • Length: 11 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1,100
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 849
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 849

The edge of the Roman Empire is a volatile place; the tribes of the North dwell near its borders. These hinterlands are the homeland of Gaius Petreius Ruso's slave, Tilla, who has scores of her own to settle there: Her tribespeople, under the leadership of the mysterious Stag Man, are fomenting a rebellion, and her former lover is implicated in the murder of a soldier. Ruso, once again pulled into a murder investigation, is appalled to find that Tilla is still spending time with the prime suspect.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Great book, fabulous reader

  • By Lucy on 05-10-08

This is a great series

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-24-18

I know I wrote a review for this book when I finished it, but for some reason the post did not work. So I am only getting around to it now that I finished the next book in the series. By writing a review, even delayed, I make a record for myself and I can also add to all the great reviews for this book, I'll just say that I enjoyed the book immensely and am definitely hooked on the series. Simon Vance is a great performer. He brings these characters to life.