When I was 12 my mother gave me a book to read called "The First Man in Rome" by Colleen McCollough. It followed the life and career of a man called Gaius Marius, the uncle of Julius Caesar. This was the beginning of my love affair with all things Roman. I read all 6 books in Colleen McCollough's Master of Rome series which spanned the years 110 BC to 20 BC, following the lives of Gaius Marius, Sulla, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. I chose to take Latin in school, spent a month in Rome in my early 20s, and went to Pompeii where I meticulously took pictures of of everything from the bathhouses to the whorehouses. So imagine my delight when my husband included a visit to the Roman ruins of Ephesus on my honeymoon! I am a geek I know but you have to admit, it is impressive what they managed to build..
Two further reading reccomendations: