Category Archives: Caroline Lawrence

The Roman Quests – Death in the Arena

To be honest, I was afraid the death count might be bigger than I wanted it to be. Caroline Lawrence has been known to kill in the past, and people I didn’t want to see dead, too. And let’s face it; to make Roman Britain realistic, you can’t have too many lucky escapes, can you?

Well, I’m obviously not going to tell you if they live or not. There is quite a bit of blood. There are dangerous beasts, and at times even domestic cats can be life threatening.

Caroline Lawrence, Death in the Arena

The third Roman Quests and the turn has come to Ursula to have her tale. She loves her animals, and she loves being a Druid, which is all good apart from the fact that Druids are to be executed if found. The three siblings from Rome are then given a task by Flavia Gemina, which involves our old friends Lupus and Jonathan. Always nice to catch up with old friends.

There is the tricky task of attempting to reunite separated twins Castor and Raven, and getting rid of the Emperor Domitian while also staying alive is a big job.

And romance! These young people fall in love at the drop of a hat. It can be hard to know who you really, really love, and maybe it’s more than one? The modern reader has to keep in mind that the children are of an age to justifiably be thinking of who to marry.

Death in the Arena shows us what sort of entertainment they had back in AD 95. Audiences wanted to see blood from fights between beasts or ritual sacrifice, but also more normal fun, such as music and comedy. Mixed up in the one show, it feels rather over-powering. But nice to know that Lupus is now a superstar with fans! I always liked that boy.

Caroline continues to educate as she entertains. And I do like the long line of continuity from the early days of the Roman Mysteries. Carpe Diem.

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The Roman Quests – The Archers of Isca

It is reassuring that I am not yet too old for Caroline Lawrence’s books. Occasionally I wonder if I will be, seeing as I’ve been reading her Roman mysteries for well over a dozen years. But I am still a child at heart.

Caroline Lawrence, The Roman Quests - The Archers of Isca

The second of four books set in Britain in AD 95, we follow the eldest boy, Fronto, as he sets off to be a soldier. It’s what he always wanted, albeit perhaps not quite like this. In Rome he could have been an officer, while now he must begin at the bottom. But for a boy who likes rules and knowing what’s happening and what he should do about it, army life is perfect.

Meanwhile, his two younger siblings continue as they were, living with the local people. At least, until Fronto’s little sister Ursula is kidnapped.

As with all Caroline’s books, this story educates as it entertains. I have learned more about life in Roman Britain through these books than I ever did from more historical texts. What’s more, I suspect I might remember facts for longer as well.

There are Druids and Romans, we learn about Roman baths and Boudica’s famous battle, and we find out how people lived; what they ate and how they worked and prayed.

And we are getting closer to knowing what happened to Miriam’s twin boys.

Nooooo..!

Please not the Cathy Hopkins books! Are we not finished with those? Are we not – both me and Daughter – over the age of 20? Are Cathy’s books not really quite fun?

Yes, they are. They are – almost entirely – staying. Three years on from The Move Clearances we are pruning here and there. Offspring’s sudden room switching (yes, no, neither live here any more) caused books to be looked at again. I thought maybe we could gain the half metre that Cathy’s books take up on the shelf.

But as you may have gathered, that didn’t go well. Although it depends on your point of view. Nearly all the Cathy Hopkins books will remain with us, minus the quiz books, etc.

Same with Caroline Lawrence. You can’t send the Roman Mysteries packing. Or Theresa Breslin. Definitely not Mary Hoffman. Oh no, those ladies are all just going walkabout in the house to rest elsewhere.

Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo are semi-intact, with the very best still here. (I’m reminded of Son’s stash of toy cars. Age is no barrier to what you simply must keep. In fairness he recently parted with his third and fourth copies of His Dark Materials, sparing only two of each.)

But Doctor Who is leaving. Mostly. Even signed ones. (Yes, that was Daughter’s book you found in the charity shop. Lucky you.)

The Universe will make some other person happy, while the napkin folding guide stays. And she rather thought Helen Grant would want one of her cast-offs.

The other ‘great’ idea she had was to incorporate hers with mine, which only means taking every single book out and re-alphabetising the lot again; first and second rows on each shelf. I suggested her books might be in peril, come my next major pruning, but apparently her books can be post-it-ed.

Hah, as if I can be trusted!

Mystery & Mayhem

Perfect holiday reading if you already like crime, and hopefully also if you haven’t yet discovered it. The Crime Club’s Twelve Deliciously Intriguing Mysteries is great fun.

Katherine Woodfine, Mystery & Mayhem

Twelve criminally minded authors, herded and edited by Katerine Woodfine, offer up youthful versions of traditional crime styles. You have Impossible Mysteries, Canine Capers, Poison Plots and Closed-System Crimes, all equally intriguing and entertaining. Maybe some of the crimes are not as noir as what adults read these days, but there is murder and fraud and all kinds of trickery.

I liked them all. What I especially like is the fact that younger readers get a proper introduction both to crime reading, but also to crime vocabulary. You know, schools don’t always teach useful words such as purloined.

Some are set today, some in the past. Some stories take place in other countries and others right on your doorstep. The ones by authors I know lived up to my expectations, while those by new (to me) writers were great introductions.

Put a copy in the hands of someone young and bored this summer.

The Roman Quests – Escape From Rome

How I have missed the Roman Mysteries! And I didn’t even realise. Here – in Escape From Rome – Caroline Lawrence takes us back to Rome, slightly later than in the previous books and then, as the title suggests, we escape.

Caroline Lawrence, Escape From Rome

The Roman Quests will be a trilogy of new adventures set in Britain. The year is AD 94, and a wealthy jewel broker has to send his four children away in the night, because the Emperor Domitian is looking for revenge. 12-year-old Juba is told to look after his older brother Fronto and younger sisters Ursula and Dora the baby, and to make his way to their uncle Pantera in what today is Fishbourne in Sussex.

The trip is not without its moments. Give a child gold and they are bound to lose it, to make life harder. So let’s just say that once away from the soldiers searching for them, the children don’t simply hire a wetnurse for Dora and buy tickets on the first boat to Britain, and arrive nice and safe at their uncle’s house.

There is an excellent history lesson nestling among all the adventures the children encounter. And that’s not all they find; we meet some of our former friends from the Roman Mysteries as well. Lovely to see them again.

Juba is a good leader, ably assisted by both Fronto and Ursula. There are a couple of new characters too, that I look forward to seeing more of. Bring on October and book two!

Queen of the Silver Arrow

Caroline Lawrence has written a story to inspire girls that they can do more. Admittedly, the cover features a beautiful girl with a bow and arrow, and I understand that recent films (and the books behind them) have made bows and arrows the thing to have. But why not?

Caroline Lawrence, Queen of the Silver Arrow

This re-working of Virgil’s The Aeneid for Barrington Stoke tells the story of Camilla, who is the Queen of the Silver Arrow. Her father, who’s a King, brought her up in the woods where he fled with his baby daughter, and she learns to be of service to the Goddess Diana.

Camilla’s story becomes well known in the neighbourhood, and Acca who is the same age, dreams of being like her, and so do some of the rich girls in town. Eventually they all meet and Camilla trains the girls to be warriors, something that becomes necessary when the Trojans arrive.

Violent and bloody in parts, it’s still a beautiful piece of history (it was real, wasn’t it?), and as I said, very inspiring for girls. It needn’t all be about getting married. Or at least not without doing something worthwhile first.

Sometimes we all want to be like an Amazon, although perhaps stopping short at baring a breast.

Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!