Murder, Fictional & Literal- March 2022 Book Reviews: Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great, Miss Tonks Turns to Crime, Steelheart, Gosnell, Eleanor Oliphant

In this article, we have…
  • An ancient king with a (several) unusual ways of dealing with rivals and enemies…
  • A girl with a hidden traumatic past who learns how to reconnect…
  • A seemingly unassuming old pro revealed to be a filthy (literally, not a metaphor) murderer
  • People with superhero-like skills who turn into murderers because of said skills…
  • A spinster and her niece who take on an unusual occupation…

…All of these stories come from books I read for the Tic-Tac-Solitaire reading game in March. But which of the stories above are fiction, which are nonfiction?

Read and find out!

What else is inside this TBR Wrap-Up:

  1. List of books read this month
  2. Brief reviews of selected books

(To learn more about the Tic-Tac-TBR Game, join our Brilliant Writer Merry Band!)

March 2022 Book List & Prompts:

March 2022 tic-tac-toe prompts


(F) = Fiction. (NF) = Nonfiction.

  1. Prompt: Penalty Book + New author
    Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas (NF): The true story of the pastor who helped plan a failed assassination on Hitler, and died for it a few weeks before the end of WWII.
    How I did: Listened to half the audiobook
  2. Prompt: Penalty Book
    Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson (NF): The true story of a Jennifer Doudna, a pioneer of gene editing.
    How I did: Didn’t quite get to it >.<
  3. Prompt: Penalty Book + Girl MC
    Miss Tonks Turns to Crime by Marion Chesney (F): A spinster and her niece turn to crime and subterfuge to save their failing hotel.
    How I did: Finished the audiobook
  4. Prompt: Penalty Book + Dead author
    Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War edited by Larry Hedrick (NF): A translation of historian Xenophon’s take on what made ancient Persian King Cyrus so great (told as a first-person account of a war against the Assyrians).
    How I did: Finished
  5. Prompt: Library wish list P. 13
    Gosnell by Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer (NF): The true story of one of the grossest (in more than one sense of the word) mass murderers in a shadowy industry.
    How I did: Mostly finished. Was a bit gruesome to wade through.
  6. Prompt: Book inspired by random song (“Every Little Thing” by Russell Dickerson)
    Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (F): A girl with a tragic and traumatic past learns to reconnect with people through a series of unexpected events.
    How I did: Audiobook — finished in one sitting.
  7. Prompt: Wildcard
    Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (F): A boy joins a shadowy team to take down an evil villain with superpowers.
    How I did: Finished

Selected Book Reviews

Books on the board!

Personal Ratings & Review

I use 2 criteria to rate every book on a scale of 1–5:

  1. Content: the ideas in this book are interesting, edifying, and worth learning. (Out of ★★★★★ stars)
  2. Craftsmanship: the work is polished, skillful, and well-written. (Out of ★★★★★ stars)

Miss Tonks Turns to Crime by Marion Chesney

Miss Tonks Turns to Crime by Marion Chesney (F)

“Aubrey Davenport was dressed like a fop, had the manners of a fop, and appeared to have the intelligence of a potato.” — Miss Tonks Turns to Crime

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★

Miss Tonks Turns to Crime is an installment in a light-hearted Regency-era story about a spinster who runs a hotel with several other misfit/outcasts in order to make a living.

Miss Tonks, who was cut out of her inheritance by her sister, decides to stage a robbery on said sister in order to pay the hotel’s bills. But when the robbery goes wrong, Tonks and her niece and her niece’s unwanted suitor end up fashioning a few other plans. Throw in a rival hotel, a rival lady for the suitor’s affections, and some very bizarre misunderstandings, and you get a fun and somewhat silly romp of a story.

Overall, this book is great as light entertainment, but not terribly standout in other ways. Recommend if you want to spend a morning doing some art and want a non-mentally-taxing audiobook to keep you company (that’s what I did!)

Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great ed. by Larry Hedrick

Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great: Art of Leadership & War Ed. by Larry Hedrick (NF)

“Persians regarded [Cyrus] as the ‘Father,’ the Babylonians as the ‘Liberator,’ the Greeks as the ‘Law-Giver,’ and the Jews as the ‘Anointed of the Lord.’” — Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great

  1. ★★★★★
  2. ★★★★

Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great: Art of Leadership & War is a fascinating look into the life of one of the most underrated leaders of ancient history — Cyrus the Great, king of Persia. This book is an edited translation of a history by Greek historian Xenophon, student of Socrates, an account of Cyrus’ early days as a leader, when he helped his uncle defeat the Assyrians who threatened to take over Medo-Persia.

Cyrus has long been a figure of interest for me, ever since I read about him in Second Chronicles, but I really knew nothing about him. It was good to read this biography, and if everything written in it is true, Cyrus really was an unusual man and leader.

For example, one story that most impressed me was how Cyrus dealt with those who were “beneath” him in abilities, not just with tolerance or empathy, but real compassion and understanding. He was ambitious without letting it become a vice, and wise in how he dealt with people from all walks of life. It’s no wonder that he is known to this day as a great king. Highly recommended read!

Gosnell by McElhinney & McAleer

Gosnell by Ann McElhinney & Phelim McAleer (NF)

“All serial murders are not sexually-based. There are many other motivations for serial murders including anger, thrill, financial gain, and attention seeking.” — Gosnell

  1. ★★★★
  2. ★★★★

Gosnell is the sad-but-true story of one of the most prolific murderers in modern history that you’ve probably never heard of. Mostly because the people he killed were literally unable to speak for themselves. And because he was doubly protected by virtue of his identity and profession.

Kermit Gosnell was an aborionist who was convicted of the murders of three infants and one woman in 2013. Gosnell regularly aborted babies beyond the legal limit, hired unqualified employees to administer dangerous drugs to women (that’s how he killed at least two women who came to him for abortions), and when faced with the death of one client, tried to cover his butt with a strangely-worded self-serving letter more or less asking not to be sued.

In this book, the authors did a thorough job detailing exactly what he did, how he was discovered, and the results of his trial. It’s a crazy story in many ways, but the thing that struck me most was how dirty Gosnell was, and I’m speaking literally here.

For example: Gosnell kept severed baby feet in his office, left corpses in his refrigerator next to medication, and let his cats wander through his clinic, defecating wherever they wished. He also had such poor hygiene that officials who visited his house had to wear hazmat suits and were literally bombarded by clouds of fleas in his basement.

The book is challenging to get through, but it really makes you think about patterns of blindness, and how vices and darkness seem to be grouped together. A fascinating, if disturbing read.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (F)

“Did the Epics kill because Calamity chose — for whatever reason — only terrible people to gain powers? Or did they kill because such amazing power twisted a person, made them irresponsible?” — Steelheart

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★

Steelheart is the first installment in Sanderson’s action-packed sci-fi adventure series for young adult readers. The premise? Several years after a phenomenon called “Calamity,” a post-apocalyptic America is overrun by murderous humans who have spontaneously developed superhero-like powers. Our main character, David Charleston, personally witnessed his father being murdered by one of these anti-heroes, called Epics, and has dedicated his life to revenge.

With the help of an underground (literally underground) resistance organization with secrets of its own, David must face down the most powerful, seemingly omnipotent Epic of them all — the one they call Steelheart.

Brandon Sanderson is known for writing epic fantasy novels with elaborate magic systems, and his skill at developing powers with rules and limitations definitely come into play here. But because these stories are

Although Epics don’t exist in real life, of course, like most good fiction, they can bring to mind certain metaphorical corollaries that do occur in the real world. At least for me, reading this book brought to mind questions of power, morality, corruption, and what it means to be a hero.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (F)

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” — Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

  1. ★★★★
  2. ★★★

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the kind of book that is poised to resonate with a lot of young adults (and older adults) in this day and age. It deals with themes of loneliness, how to recover from trauma, friendship, connection, unsuitable dreams, coming-of-age-delayed, and more.

Author Gail Honeyman talked about her inspiration for this story: Apparently she had heard of a young woman who said that after going home from work on Friday, she wouldn’t speak to anybody until the Monday after. Loneliness is an epidemic, and those who are lonely are the way they are for various reasons. This is just one potential story among what is likely thousands or more.

Personally, I appreciate Honeyman’s choice of theme, and I really liked the scene where Eleanor visits a new friend’s mother, and the crux scene where Eleanor faces a severe disappointment and sinks into a horrible depression, but isn’t forgotten. There were a few places that didn’t quite ring true to me, though (such as Eleanor’s obsession with the musician, critical as it was to the overall plot). This isn’t a romance, which is a nice difference from many books like it, but there’s a lot of love shown by the characters in it, even from Eleanor herself.

It looks like they’re planning to turn this book into a movie sometime soon, as well, so if you’re interested in watching that, take a look at the book first! 

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