Book Review: The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence

The Thieves of Ostia is the first book in The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An entertaining, educational and engaging historical mystery for children. Also a quick, easy, fun read for adults. Highly recommended! 4.5 /5

Summary (from back of book)

Mystery and adventure for four young detectives in Ancient Roman times…

While investigating the disappearance of her father’s signet ring, Flavia Gemina makes some friends – Jonathon the Jewish boy, Nubia the African slave girl and Lupus the mute beggar boy. Together the friends start solving mysteries.

Can they discover who is killing dogs in Ostia, and why?

Favourite Quote

“All the wealth in the world is no good if you don’t have a family.”

(From The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence, page 44)


First, my thanks to Joy over at Tales of Eneana for recommending this book to me a few years ago. Having now read it, I wish I had come to it sooner!

I really enjoyed this book, and as I read, couldn’t help but wish this series had been around when I was growing up!

The setting was wonderfully described, from mosaics to frescos, from house design to the lighthouse. The ancient Roman port of Ostia was brought to life superbly. One of my favourite locations was the cemetery outside the town walls, and the descriptions of the tombs.

The characters were varied and from all different backgrounds and walks of life. I could easily imagine Flavia and her friends, Jonathon, Nubia and Lupus, as well as Mordecai and Captain Geminus. Flavia is clever but isn’t a show-off, which makes for nicely balanced character. She is also sympathetic and compassionate, which balances the cruelties of the Roman world with what we expect in a protagonist in a modern story.

Even though this is a children’s book, the story was engaging and gripping. It’s a quick read, one I didn’t want to put down. I loved that the chapters were called “scrolls” and that there was enough historical information in the story for it to be educational as well as fun.

I was a little surprised by some of the subjects covered in the storyline, which included the killing of dogs (which is never easy to read) and suicide, but these issues were handled sensitively. As were the issues of slavery and the loss of family members.

The next book in the series is The Secrets of Vesuvius, which I am keen to begin reading soon! Highly recommended.


4.5 / 5

Quick Review: Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley


First published in 1928, this collection of stories for children centres around the adventures of Millicent Margaret Amanda, or Milly-Molly-Mandy for short. Over thirteen stories, Milly-Molly-Mandy and her friends in the village (and beyond), get up to all sorts of things including giving a party, going to a fete, and keeping shop.


I thought this to be a sweet collection of stories which gave an interesting glimpse of how children of the 1920s saw the world. It was also a useful tool in documenting how English villages were back then, and how much they have changed over the hundred years since the book was published.

The adventures are very gentle and pretty much drama-free compared to modern storytelling, but I think sometimes such stories are just what’s needed in this fast-paced world.

Another aspect I liked was how the stories depicted society during that period. There is very much a focus on the home, and the extended family living together (Milly-Molly-Mandy lives with her mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, as well as her uncle and aunt). It also stresses that one shouldn’t be idle, so everyone is always doing something, even the young children in the village have what we might consider quite extensive chores to complete.

Life was very different in Milly-Molly-Mandy’s world, and from a historical point of view, I found it rather illuminating. I could have done without the repetitiveness of her name though…

A charming read, full of nostalgia for bygone days. It brought to life the world my grandmother would have grown up in, and to me, that makes these stories very special.


Quick Review: The Borrowers by Mary Norton

The Borrowers is the first book in the series of the same name by Mary Norton, first published in 1952.

Summary (from Goodreads)

Beneath the kitchen floor is the world of the Borrowers – Pod and Homily Clock and their daughter, Arrietty. In their tiny home, matchboxes double as roomy dressers and postage stamps hang on the walls like paintings. Whatever the Clocks need they simply “borrow” from the “human beans” who live above them. It’s a comfortable life, but boring if you’re a kid. Only Pod is allowed to venture into the house above, because the danger of being seen by a human is too great. Borrowers who are seen by humans are never seen again. Yet Arrietty won’t listen. There is a human boy up there, and Arrietty is desperate for a friend.


This is another one of those children’s books that I never read as a child, even though I knew some of my friends had read it and enjoyed it. I do remember vaguely a TV series based on the books, which I think I did watch, and also a film, made later, which I don’t think I saw. So…I picked up this book with a bit of trepidation, as I’ve not liked a great many of the children’s books I’ve read as an adult (What Katy Did and some of the Narnia books, to name a couple). Yet, I must say, rather surprisingly, I enjoyed reading it much more than I thought I would.

There is something very honest and genuine about the characters. No-one is perfect, none of them have all the answers and it’s interesting to see how they are all trying to make life work in an ever-changing world. A world they have very little control over.

There is something very encouraging and endearing about the friendship that arises between the boy staying with his great aunt and Arriety and her parents, which lies at the heart of this story. A message of overcoming fear of others who we percieve as being different to us, but in reality we are not so different at all.

I greatly appreciated the imagination of the author who was able to look at ordinary things found in a house and envisage how someone a great deal smaller could utilise it.

The next book in the series is The Borrowers Afield, which I’m looking forward to starting soon.


Quick Review: Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs

Summary from Goodreads:

Utterly original, deeply moving and very funny, ETHEL & ERNEST is the story of Raymond Brigg’s parents from their first, chance encounter to their deaths, told in Brigg’s unique strip-cartoon format. Winner of the British Book Award for the Illustrated Book of the Year and acclaimed by the critics, ETHEL & ERNEST was a huge bestseller on first publication.


I was unsure whether or not I wanted to read this book when I came across it in a bag of books I’d been given. The author is most well-known for his wordless story, The Snowman, which I enjoyed as a child but am ambivalent towards as an adult, if I’m being honest. However, I am very glad that I gave it a go!

This was such a sweet, moving read, and I found it unexpectedly enjoyable and unputdownable! I say that because I don’t often read graphic novels or comic strips, but I found the images really carried the story of Brigg’s parents so well.

Charmingly British, it covers the period of 1928 – 1971, and some of the major events they lived through, as well as some of the ordinary things most of our grandparents or great-grandparents experienced such as the sudden progression of technology in the home as well as the aspirations for their children.

It’s so beautifully executed and a poignant way of an artist honouring the memory of his parents. Definitely well worth a read!


Quick Review: The BFG by Roald Dahl

Summary (from Goodreads)

Captured by a giant! The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly. It’s lucky for Sophie that he is. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher, or any of the other giants-rather than the BFG-she would have soon become breakfast.

When Sophie hears that they are flush-bunking off in England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!

My Thoughts

It’s been years since I’ve read any of Roald Dahl’s books, but when a family member gave me a huge bag of books, one of which was The BFG, I thought it would be good to revisit it, especially as I’ve been reading and re-reading some childhood classics in recent years.

And, I thought I would enjoy it more than I did. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Yes, it’s a highly imaginative story that’s sure to appeal to children, but the bits that I think appeals to them (the long, made-up-tongue-twisting words), don’t really appeal to me.

Also, being almost thirty years old, the book is a product of its time and so some passages haven’t aged particularly well. However, there are some very good passages too, my favourite being one about a matter of perspective: the giants seem bad to Sophie because the giants eat people, but that doesn’t make humans automatically good, some humans do bad things too. And that lesson alone makes the story worth a read, I think.


Book Review: What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge

Quick Review (read on for full review)

I thought I would enjoy this book so much more than I did, but alas, I didn’t.  If I’d read it as a child, which I hadn’t, I wonder if I might have enjoyed it a little more…1 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Katy Carr intends to be beautiful and beloved and as sweet as an angel one day. For now, though, her hair is forever in a tangle, her dress is always torn and she doesn’t care at all for being called ‘good’. But then a terrible accident happens and Katy must find the courage to remember her daydreams and the delightful plans she once schemed; for when she is grown up she wants to do something grand…

Favourite Quote

“To-morrow I will begin,” thought Katy, as she dropped asleep that night. How often we all do so! And what a pity it is that when morning comes and to-morrow is to-day, we so frequently wake up feeling quite differently; careless or impatient, and not a bit inclined to do the fine things we planned overnight.”

(From What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge)


I’ve not got many good things to say about this book, and I’m quite disappointed by that, especially after liking my revisit of The Secret Garden. I had high hopes for this, given its popularity.  Growing up, I recall it was a favourite of a number of friends, and I was often encouraged to read it by family and friends and teachers but I was too preoccupied with other books of my own choosing to do so.  I preferred mysteries, horror and crime stories, even then. 😉

The main problem I found was it came across as a little dated. It’s very much a product of its time and lacks the timelessness of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in comparison (which, is another book I’m hoping to re-read soon).   Little girls should be good, pretty, obedient, well-presented…you get the idea.  There were also a few troubling passages in the book that I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable with, such as views on disability and what it is to be a good person.

It didn’t help that I didn’t like Katy very much. I found her annoying and frustrating.  At one point in the story, I actually gasped in shock at something she had done – I’ll not mention here for fear of spoilers, though I’ll happily discuss it in the comments, should anyone wish to.  The only words to describe it: terrible and harrowing.

I felt a lot of sympathy towards Aunt Izzy, though I can imagine, reading this as a child, I too would have seen her as the enemy of all things fun.  The perspective of age here plays its part.

I do wonder if I had read it as a child – and if I had liked it then – I might have enjoyed it more now.  Revisiting it with fond recollections might have made me more amenable to Katy and better able to tolerate the things about her that I didn’t like.   Of course, it is worth pointing out it’s a children’s story and not being a child, I am not the intended target audience for this book.

Only after writing the first draft of my review did I learn, on reading other reviews on Goodreads, that the title of the book is in fact a play on the name of a family of insects (katydid).  Which explains the opening of the story, something I did not get at all at the time.  So I come away from this book having learned something – always good!

Will I be reading more from the Carr series of story by Susan Coolidge? The next book is What Katy Did At School.  My answer: Not any time soon…

Just a note: I listened to an audio dramatization of this book from LibreVox.  The dramatization was well done, but it was the story itself that I didn’t like – I just want to make that clear.  As I mentioned when reviewing The Secret Garden, finding favourite quotes is harder to do for an audiobook compared to having the text in front of you.  So I cheated a little and searched the ones listed on Goodreads, but only picked one that I could actually recall.



Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #20 in the list: a book written by an author that has the same initials as you

Book Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I listened to the audiobook of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden by Librivox.  You can find it here.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A wonderfully charming story and an interesting, engaging dramatization, combined to make this an enchanting audiobook. I thoroughly enjoyed it.  As for the story itself, it serves to remind us of the healing power of nature and of friendships. 4 / 5

Summary (from Amazon)

‘Where, you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.’

After the sudden death of her wealthy parents, spoilt Mary Lennox is sent from India to live with her uncle in the austere Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors. Neglected and uncherished, she is horribly lonely, until one day she discovers a walled garden in the grounds that has been kept locked for years. When Mary finds the key to the garden and shares it with two unlikely companions, she opens up a world of hope, and as the garden blooms, Mary and her friends begin to find a new joy in life.

Serialised in 1910 and first published in its entirety in 1911, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s enchanting novel of friendship and rejuvenation is one of the greatest classics of children’s literature.

Favourite Quote

“Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing.”

(From The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett)


By chance, when I was looking for something to listen to whilst doing some housework, I stumbled upon the LibriVox audiobook of The Secret Garden

At 7 hours and 38 minutes long, I listened to the story over the course of a handful of days, and I found it captivating.  As a dramatization of the story, there was a cast of readers involved rather than a single narrator, which I enjoyed immensely.  It wasn’t perfect, but sometimes, perfection doesn’t matter as much as enjoyment…

I read The Secret Garden as a child, a number of times (and still have my copy somewhere…) but over time, I seemed to have forgotten almost everything about it.  I did remember that I loved it though and was keen to be reminded why.  Sometimes it can be an extraordinarily rewarding experience to revisit books, and on this occasion I found it to be so: I was reminded why, as a young girl, I fell in love with reading and with books, something that has only increased with time.

The Secret Garden is a story about love and healing but also reminds us that we are a product of our surroundings.  If we are surrounded by negative things we often project negativity, and vice versa.  The healing power of nature is given a prominent role in the tale, whether it is the moors, or the animals or in the garden itself.

It is wonderful to hear how the friendships are struck up between Mary, Dickon and Colin.  It is striking to see how it takes Mary and Colin, coming from a background full of privilege though equally, one filled with loss and emotional neglect, to meet Dickon, from a family of 12 children, where things are tight, to understand the joys to be found in life.

Dickon and his way with animals is just so charming.  I loved hearing about the fox, the squirrels, the lamb and the crow, not to mention the robin that was friends with everyone.

Another character I liked was Ben Weatherstaff. His abrupt, plain-speaking attitude, tempered with kindness, helps Mary see her why she behaves as she does, and in turn, why people behave the way they do towards her in response.

Mary’s early years were spent in India.  So there are, given the age of the story (it was first published in 1910), some uncomfortable references reminding the reader of Britain’s colonial past.

The only problem I’ve found so far with reviewing an audiobook is that I like to include my favourite quote(s) in the review, and that can be a little difficult without having the text in front me to bookmark.  So, for The Secret Garden, I cheated a little and looked through the quotes on Goodreads. I was surprised that I remembered so many of the ones that were listed.


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #13 in the list: a book you’ve read before

Book Review: Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

Twas the Night Before Christmas, or A Visit From St Nicholas by Clement C. Moore, with illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Beautiful, charming and timeless.  A delight to read. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

This poem first appeared in a newspaper in Troy, New York, USA, on December 23, 1823, as “A Visit From St. Nicholas”. No one claimed authorship until 13 years later. Clement Clarke Moore, a professor and poet, said that he wrote the piece for his children. Unbeknownst to him, his housekeeper had sent it to the newspaper to be published. However, the family of Henry Livingston Jr. contended that their father had been reciting “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for 15 years prior to publication. Regardless of the true author, the poem is now a Christmas classic.

Favourite Quote

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself


This Christmas was the first time (that I can remember) reading this poem from beginning to end.  Of course, this poem is so well known that, even without having read it, some of its lines are easy to quote.  But I’m so glad that I found the time this year to read it.

The edition I read was from 1912, via Project Gutenberg, and was beautifully illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith.  My favourite picture was the stockings hanging from the mantlepiece – it’s such a typically festive Christmas scene.

I don’t think I quite realised just how old the poem is. It was first published in 1823 and, to give that a little context, it was published twenty years before Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Neither did I realise “Twas the Night Before Christmas” isn’t actually its title, but “A Visit From St Nicholas”, though the poem is more commonly known by its first line.  Something else I discovered this Christmas is that there is argument for attributing the writing of this poem to a different author.

The poem is beautiful and charming and conjures up many ideas we associate with Christmas to this day (for example, Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight reindeer – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen – stockings hanging from the mantlepiece, St Nick entering the house via the chimney).  And, apart from a few archaic words, which have been changed out and modernised with later publishing, it could have been written much more recently for the audiences of today.

Even as an adult reading it, there is much joy to be found in the poem, and I have no doubt I will read the poem again, in its entirety, next year, and probably for all the Christmas’ after that!


Book Review: The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter – Hieroglyph Edition

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, translated into hieroglyphs by J.F. Nunn and R.B. Parkinson.  This edition was published by The British Museum Press.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A visually delightful edition of a childhood classic, this is perfect for those who loved Beatrix Potter’s stories as a child and ancient Egypt as an adult.  Wonderful! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

The full and complete text of Beatrix Potter’s world-famous and universally loved Tale of Peter Rabbit faithfully translated and transcribed page for page into the hieroglyphic script of an Egyptian of the Middle Kingdom and illustrated with all the original colour artwork by the author herself. Based on the official centenary edition published in 2002, the translation combines the familiar face of the original with the British Museum’s world-renowned expertise and scholarship.

Favourite Quote

I had to be a little creative here and decided to include the translators’ explanation of the final page of the story:

“For ‘The End’, we have given the usual Egyptian scribe’s colophon, which indicates completion of the manuscript, and may be translated as: ‘So it ends, from start to finish as found in the writing of the writer Beatrix Potter.’


The Tale of Peter Rabbit was one of my favourite stories as a child.  In fact, I loved (and still love) all of Beatrix Potter’s books, but this one was my favourite of them.  Even as an adult I still love Peter Rabbit – I have a number of cross-stitches recreating the famous illustrations and a number of stuffed toys.  However, it is this, the Hieroglyph Edition of the story from The British Museum Press which is my most treasured Peter Rabbit possession.  I received it as a gift nearly ten years ago, and although I’ve had some pretty amazing presents since, I’m not sure any can eclipse this.

I should say, that yes, when I first received this, I could read some of it, having studied hieroglyphs a little (meaning I had a tiny amount of knowledge of what some of the elements represented – I’ve never been able to read it from cover to cover, though I aspire to).  However, over the passing years, I’ve not kept up with it, proving the saying, if you don’t use it, you lose it.  That doesn’t diminish the joy I find in flicking through the book though.

A photo of one of the inside pages (apologies for the wonkiness and darkness of the image – that’s all me, not the book)…the hieroglyphs look so beautiful on the page. Note an explanation from the translators at the bottom.

It is visually stunning, combining the original illustrations with facing pages of hieroglyphs, beneath which there are notes from the translators, explaining the need for replacement words in certain passages.  My favourite of these is found at the end of the story – see the favourite quote above.  I think it sounds so much nicer than simply writing “The End”.  Also, I think it’s worth pointing out the original text is not to be found in the book so unless you know the story – or can read hieroglyphs – you won’t have a clue what’s going on.

This is a lovely edition, and I heartily recommend it to those who like quirky or unusual books, or who have an interest in both ancient Egypt and Peter Rabbit.


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #1 in the list: A book you read as a child / young adult

Book Review: Ancient Egyptians: Mummies, Temples and Tombs by Clive Dickinson

Quick Review (read on for full review)

This is an interesting and engaging book on Ancient Egypt aimed at younger readers. It touches on a wide range of subjects and is presented in an accessible way. 3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Published to accompany a live-action TV series, this book vividly brings to life the stories of five people who lived in Egypt over 2,000 years ago, as recorded on original papyrus documents or etched in stone. The individuals whose lives are so vividly recounted include the royal sculptor Thutmose, who is remembered as the creator of one of the best-known pieces of ancient Egyptian art—the plaster bust of Nefertiti. Then there is Inamun, the temple official who set out on an heroic adventure down the Nile in search of materials to build a sacred barge to the god Amun. Other tales include that of the young weaver Nakhte, who had a short and tragic life; Weni the pyramid builder, who ended up buried in the very pyramid he helped to build; and Pharaoh Nectanebo II, last of the Egyptian pharaohs, who sought to protect his realm through magical ritual.

Favourite Quote

The Pharaoh, Akhenaten, wanted tomb decorations to show life around the city.  So Thutmose and craftsmen like him found themselves creating pictures and descriptions of houses, temples and palaces that they knew well.  They created lifelike pictures of birds and animals.  And they showed real people living real lives.

(Ancient Egyptians: Mummies, Temples and Tombs by Clive Dickenson, pg 34)


This is a very interesting, engaging book on Ancient Egypt aimed at younger readers.  What I found especially good about it was the way it was presented.  With page numbers set in an Eye of Horus and hieroglyphs found at the top of each page, it is clearly designed to capture the attention and spark the imagination.

The stories are also presented in an accessible way.  A title page for each story gives all the relevant information: when it was set and a cast list of characters we are to meet.  Alongside each name there is an explanation of how it should be pronounced.  Then, the story itself is broken down into easy to read sections, starting with an introduction to the tale ahead.

The five stories in this collection are based around real people and real events.  As the story unfolds, the reader can get acquainted with some of the fascinating aspects of Ancient Egypt from temple life to means of travel, and how life was different for those at different ends of the social scale.

Having not seen the TV series this book was written to accompany (I’m not even sure when it was broadcast), I can say that it works well as a standalone.  I think this would be a great book for younger readers who are just starting to develop an interest in Ancient Egypt as it touches on a wide range of subjects in an easy to understand manner.


3.5 / 5