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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 March 2012
I tend to approach Young Adult or Children's literature in the same way that I do any other book, with an open mind and an excited sense of anticipation. Just as a good animation film should deliver treats for all its viewers, regardless of their ages, so a well-written book, ostensibly aimed at younger readers, is more than likely to contain some goodies for the less young reader. I would never like to think of myself as an Old Adult...

And so when a writer I hugely respect, Ben Kane, recommended Caroline Lawrence's Roman Mysteries to me, I snapped one up. Specifically, the second one, The Secrets of Vesuvius. It has Pompeii under volcanic attack in it - big selling point for me. Throw in some Pliny and there was no way I was about to start this series anywhere else.

The Secrets of Vesuvius continues the adventures of a group of children who are drawn from all reaches of the empire, led by the constantly curious, mystery-seeking Flavia, who lives in Ostia with a well-heeled Roman father. Her constant companions are Jonathan (a Jewish Christian), Nubia (a rescued slave and orphan from the Nubian desert) and Lupus (a mysterious, brave Greek boy whose tongue has been cut from him). With them they have an assortment of dogs, led by Flavia's Scuto, who seems to get into even more mischief than his young mistress. And then there is Miriam, Jonathan's beautiful and very marriageable older sister (she's reached the ripe old age of 14).

As the book opens, Lupus saves a floundering tubby drowning man who turns out to be the Admiral of the Roman Fleet, Pliny the Elder. Fortunately, along with his life, the youngsters also save his precious writings and, for both, the kids are rewarded with special, personalised gifts. Flavia's is a riddle from Pompeii. If she can identify the riddle and seek out the blacksmith Vulcan, there will be treasure. Just as well, then, that the whole group (as well as Pliny) is off to Pompeii to stay with Uncle Gaius. A shame, though, that they picked August AD79.

I'll say no more about the plot, which has some very pleasing twists and turns as the children (and their dogs) get tangled up in a mix of red herrings, hounds and love. Yes, love is in the air for one of the party. However, one can hardly ignore the fact that the great mountain that dominates these towns is about to blow its top and, as reality hits, there is a very strong menace of danger.

The narrative is mixed with all kinds of details that appealed to me. Jonathan's father is a doctor and we learn about 1st century AD medicine just as we also learn, in an admirably unobtrusive fashion, something of early Christianity - both its practice and its standing in the pagan world. Pliny is a delight. I have read a fair amount about Pliny and his attempted rescue of victims of Vesuvius and the details here ring very true. Caroline Lawrence clearly knows her history but, possibly even more importantly, she conveys this knowledge with an accessible and fascinating slight of hand.

Children are in good hands with the Roman Mysteries series. Such books are so important in a child's progression towards a love and appreciation of the history around them and further afield. As we get a little older, one recognises that there is still so much to learn and a book such as this is not only a lot of fun it lights sparks.

I should also point out that I read Secrets of Vesuvius in a day. I could not put it down. I've already snapped up the next, Pirates of Pompeii.

There are quite a bunch of books in this series, not to mention a couple of television series you can buy on DVD. All of the details and more about the characters and their world can be found at the fun Roman Mysteries website. I also recommend Caroline's blog ([...]), which contains some revealing insights into her research for the novels.
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on 2 December 2001
One Brave, Beautiful, and Sassy Heroine, a model for any teenage wannabe detective, with friends we all want to have in real life, Flavia sets out again to solve another exciting and terrifying adventure, here Flavia and her friend's loyalties will be put to the most incredible extremes. Can they solve the Riddle to find Pliny's treasure? And when confronted with the Truth, can their friendship withstand the earth shattering consequences.... This sequel to the Thieves of Ostia is a true Masterpiece. Delicious description, rip roaring adventure, spine tingling scary bits, puppies, jokes, a volcano and some romance, this truly is the best way to spend those cosy moments in literature land and learn your Classics and Latin homework at the same time! You just won't be able to put this down. Miss it, and you've definitely missed out!
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on 30 November 2001
This book was brilliant. A new mystery unfolds as Flavia and her friends go to stay with her Uncle near Pompeii only days before the city is buried by one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history. Throughout the book there is the most delicious sense of foreboding, and the ending is tinged with both sadness and relief. I loved the inclusion of Pliny the Elder in the story. It is a rich read that will keep you on the edge of your seat. To quote the book "Fortes fortuna iuvat!"
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 April 2012
A series about four children living in ancient Rome. Flavia Gemina is the daughter of a sea-captain, and with her African slave girl Nubia and friends Jonathan, a Jewish doctor's son and Lupus, a mute boy, she is excited at the prospect of sailing across the Bay of Naples to spend the summer on her uncle's farm near Pompeii. Here the children meet Pliny, author of the famous 'Natural Histories' and Admiral of the war fleet.
Pliny befriends them and sets them a puzzle - to unravel a riddle and find a wandering blacksmith. The friends run around the city of Pompeii, are invited to dinner in neighbouring villas and learn the legend of the blacksmith god Vulcan, whose forge shakes the earth and causes molten rock to pour forth from some mountains.
Not even Pliny, however, realises that the mountain above them, Vesuvius, is a volcano about to erupt. The puzzle the friends are solving suddenly fades beside the clues they have noticed about the true nature of the mountain and their danger. The reek of sulphur frightens the adults around them, who have known it to kill sheep; although earth tremors are more usual and less worrying. Barking dogs, fleeing snakes and birds falling dead are cause for wonder, until Flavia recalls reading scrolls about a volcanic eruption elsewhere. Convinced that Vesuvius is waking, the friends decide they have to warn the inhabitants of Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum - and then ash begins to fall from the sky, setting like cement on the paving slabs.
An exciting story which will be enjoyed by bright pre-teens to mid-teens, this tale brings to life the everyday Romans and their adventures. Having visited Pompeii and hiked up Vesuvius to look into its still-smoking crater, I found the book fascinating.
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on 29 November 2014
My 8 year old daughter absolutely loves these books so I just keep getting the next one in the series as she finishes them.

From the bits of them I've read with her they seem like Famous Five adventures set in ancient Rome which is great as she's getting a bit of history as well as the reading practice.
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on 20 February 2017
Read this book for my daughters (7 & 9) and they thoroughly enjoyed it! Both give it a rating a 5 stars.
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on 23 October 2012
This book was the first in the series to attract my son who has a fascination with volcanic eruptions (and similar disasters) we follow the 4 children as they solve the mysteries and escape the volcano!!

This is a great series of books. My son who is 9 loves the mystery element and read all 17 books in a few weeks. My daughter is 13 and while she is probably a bit old for the story lines claims them as 'background reading' whilst studying Latin. I at 40 find the plots a bit predictable after a while but enjoyed reading the books regardless. There is much to be gleaned of the Roman way of life and some useful vocabulary picked up. The BBC have serialised these and the dvd is now on the christmas list!
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on 8 January 2017
reading with y4 for their next topic , good to have some new reading material. arrived on time
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on 4 November 2015
Excellent: well researched and written to appeal to youngsters and engage their interest in the Romans.
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on 16 May 2016
Exactly as described and arrived on date promised.
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