Otho’s Regret by L.J. Trafford

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To quote the band Queen, “Another one bites the dust.”  Rome is going through emperors faster than Lincoln went through generals in the American Civil War. In fact, it is going through them so fast that Vitellius thinks he’s supplanting Galba who’s already been supplanted by Otho.  A troubling time for the men and women who made up the bureaucracy that ran the Empire.  Those are the main characters in this, the third volume of this marvelous series.  The author once again conjures up a thrilling account of one of Rome’s more raucous and unstable times.  She continues her fine descriptive powers and her frequent humorous touch right from page 1, “Beside them sat the boiled quail’s eggs, the roasted dormice, the crispy lampreys, and the steamed turbot that constituted Vitellius’ breakfast.  This was the first course.  There were another eight to come.”  As this period in Roman history rolls on we get to meet some new characters as well as the old standbys like Mina, Sporus, Epaphroditus and Philo, who all shine by the way.  We now get to meet the famous consort of Vespasian, Antonia Caenis; a formidable woman and Domitian, his younger son.  The story is a rousing rendition of Otho’s attempt to ward off a coup and is done so in a fashion that had me alternately snickering at the antics of the characters but also in very poignant way that showed the anguish, uncertainty and sorrows of the campaign.  A page turning delight with surprises galore as the story gathers momentum for the exciting finish.  I look forward to the next edition.  4.7 stars

The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith

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The sequel to I Am Livia continues to follow the reign of Octavian/Augustus Caesar and is told from the perspective of three of the important women in his life; Livia, his wife; Julia, his daughter; and the daughter of Cleopatra and Antony, Cleopatra Selene.  Once again I was enthralled with the author’s ability to take a period of history and make it come alive with all of the emotion, the fears, the makings of a dynastic family amid constant turmoil.  The portrayals of the main figures in this at times triumphant; at times tragic tale, are redolent with realism; it could have happened this way.  Livia is a true help mate for Tavius; Julia a daughter whose frustration at being just a tool for her father searches for passion; Cleopatra Selene brought up with no hope of plotting her own future finds purpose and happiness.  The Daughters of Palatine Hill is a masterful rendition; the author possesses the knack for keeping the reader thoroughly entertained; a page turning delight as the story progresses to Julia’s banishment.  A well done tale indeed.  4.8 stars and a Hoover Book Review hope that there is more forthcoming from Phyllis T. Smith.

 

Divided Empire by Brian Kitchen

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A scintillating story of adventure in the late 4th century as agents of the Emperor try to piece together a plot to bring back Pagan worship to Britannia and to retrieve a document that identifies the leaders.  Plenty of twists and surprises as Flavius and friends find there is more to it than meets the eye and people aren’t always who or what they seem.  Action galore awaits as the team travels in pursuit of a mysterious woman and a gang of vicious cut throats who also want that document, at any price.  Well written characters and a nice descriptive narrative have me convinced to read book two.  3.8 stars

The Ides by Peter Tonkin

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The Ides of Mars is fast approaching and there are evil portents aplenty warning Gaius Julius Caesar to beware of the day.  As is well known, Caesar did not heed the warnings; his violent death ushering in another period of Roman civil war and the rise of emperors.  In The Ides the reader experiences a different take on this history shaking event as we follow the story through the eyes and actions of a cadre of agents who seek to protect Caesar from those who would do him harm.  The tale is replete with wonderful characters, a story line that is filled with surprises, and a detailed view of the city of Rome and it’s varied citizenry from lowly plebs and former soldiers to the aristocrats who vie for power during the unsettling aftermath.  I read a lot of Roman historical fiction and this rendering of those climatic days rates up there with then best of them and I’m looking forward to the sequel.  4.3 stars

I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith

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One of the reasons I have watched the BBC production of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius so many times is Sian Phillips portrayal of Livia, the powerfully wicked wife of Augustus and Mother of the Empire.  One of the reasons I thoroughly enjoyed I Am Livia is the vastly different light Livia is portrayed by Phyllis T. Smith.  Instead of the scheming woman clearing a path to the throne for her son Tiberius, we find a woman longing to help her husband gain control of the Roman Empire; becoming not just a wife, but an adviser who manages to soften the harsher side of her Tavius.  The author has given the reader some excellent characters to embrace in a historical setting that determines the future of Rome and the world.  Emotions run high and are on display in this tale; a tale that is well known, Octavius and Antony and who will rule the world.  That backdrop to the story of Livia, and seen mostly through her eyes, provides a page turning delight.  I came upon this book kind of accidentally and am glad that I did.  5 stars  Highly recommended by the prestigious yet humble Hoover Book Reviews.

Pax Gallica – Marius Mules IX by SJA Turney

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Things are heating up between Caesar and the Senate.  The Senate calls for him to lay down his legions and return to Rome for prosecution while Caesar seeks to be made a Consul.  Marcus Falerius Fronto, ex-legate of the Tenth Legion has been declared an outlaw and takes his family to Massilia whereupon he decides that despite his differences with Caesar, the only way to regain what the Senate has taken from him is to rejoin Caesar.  Meanwhile there is an uprising in Aquitania led by an enigmatic man known as The Smiling King and Fronto is sent there with one legion made up of veterans ready to retire to put down the incursion and settle the veterans in that region.  Throughout this series, the author has created some very memorable characters, both Roman and barbarian.  In Pax Gallica, that honor belongs to The Smiling King; driven by vengeance, fueled by sacred vows, and totally ruthless in his pursuit to bring down Caesar.  Fronto needs all of the steadfast, professional demeanor of his ‘legion’ just to survive the opening salvos from this new enemy.  Fronto also needs all of his guile and experience to try to stay one step ahead of Smiley but is inexorably and with much loss led to where The Smiling King wants him.  Mr. Turney delivers yet again a muse inspired tale filled with drama, mystery, heroic deeds, loyalty, and most importantly a story of many twists and turns as he sets the stage for the inevitable showdown between Pompey and Caesar.  5 Stars and a Hoover Book Review query, Why haven’t you started this series yet?  🙂

Vita Brevis by Ruth Downie

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When I was asked if I would read – review Vita Brevis, the latest in Ruth Downie’s Medicus series, I was more than happy to comply.  When it was mentioned that I would be part of a Blog Tour to promote Vita Brevis, I thought, great, more exposure for this humble but enlightening book review blog.  When I found out who was also on this tour, I almost fainted.  I am in the company of the elite.  To use baseball terminology, it’s like I’m a September call-up to a team of the Major League’s heaviest hitters.  Well, no matter, I’ll put on my big boy pants and do my best….perhaps I’ll offer sacrifices to my Muse for extra guidance.  🙂

I’ve read my share of Roman whodunit books; Lindsey Davis (Falco) -Steven Saylor (Gordianus) – David Wishart (Corvinus) – JM Roberts (Decius) and of course Ruth Downie and her medical sleuth, Ruso.  What I like about these various characters is that while there are many similarities among them, foremost is the fact that they are doing detective work, there are enough differences in time, place and social station for the authors to compose unique mystery situations.  Thus we find Ruso and Tilla in Rome.  What’s so unique about that you may ask?  Well, having spent the last few years in Britannia as a Medical Officer in the 20th Legion and used to managing hospitals, clinics and dealing with the aftermath of battles, Ruso now faces a private practice that is anything but manageable.  A missing doctor, an unlooked for delivery, nosy and mean neighbors, overbearing landlords, an outlaw religious sect holding prayer meetings in the apartment above you and the general hustle and bustle that is Rome; these are just some of the things that Ruso and Tilla have to deal with.  Setting up a new practice is hard enough without being tasked with locating the missing doctor, nor does the mysterious death of an important person make it any easier. In a thoroughly entertaining way the author spreads clues and subtle hints and leads the reader down many trails to the truth.  Witty, poignant, charming, hopeful and riddled with doubt are some of the traits that permeate the narrative.  Through it all, the city of Rome is in the background; street corner charlatans, irritable crowds, bakery smells, slave auctions; all providing the perfect touches to a page turning delight.    5 stars and the highly sought after Hoover Book Reviews highest recommendation.  🙂

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Vita-Brevis-Crime-Empire-Medicus/dp/1620409585/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr

 

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 Vita BREVIS
A Gaius Ruso Mystery
By Ruth Downie
22nd September 2016
hardback – £16.99
Bringing both the majesty and depravity of ancient Rome to life, Ruth Downie concocts
a delicious mix of crime novel, mystery, and history lesson in the latest novel in her
bestselling Medicus series, VITA BREVIS.
“Downie writes with her usual humor and depth . . . Perfect for fans
of the Falco novels by Lindsey Davis, this entertaining New York
Times best-selling series and its endearing characters deserve as
long a run” —Booklist
“A deftly crafted and consistently compelling read from beginning
to end, ‘Vita Brevis’ clearly establishes author Ruth Downie as a
consummate and accomplished master of historical crime fiction” —
Midwest Book Review
Ruso and Tilla’s excitement at arriving in Rome with their baby daughter is soon dulled by
their discovery that the grand facades of polished marble mask an underworld of corrupt
landlords and vermin-infested tenements.
Ruso finds that his predecessor Doctor Kleitos has fled, leaving a dead man in a barrel on
the doorstep with the warning, ‘Be careful who you trust’. Distracted, Ruso makes a grave
mistake, causing him to question his own competence and integrity.
With Ruso’s reputation under threat, he and Tilla must protect their small family by tracking
down the vanished doctor – and discovering the truth behind the man in the barrel.
VITA BREVIS is brimming with humor, clever plot twists, and evocative historical details, as
Ruth Downie follows her beloved characters in their next adventure.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ruth Downie is the author of the New York Times bestselling Medicus, as well as Terra
Incognita, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis, and Tabula Rasa. She is
married with two sons and lives in Devon.
Follow her at ruthdownie.com and on Twitter @ruthsdownie.
Praise for VITA BREVIS
“Masterfully draws out its suspense, painting a vivid portrait of ancient Rome that
feels persuasive and authentic”
—Kirkus Reviews
“Downie’s plotting is as engaging as ever… much more than a mystery novel”
—Historical Novel Society
“Reading ‘Vita Brevis’ felt like catching up with old friends”
—Italophile Book Reviews
Praise for ruth downie and the medicus series
“Attention to day-in-the-life period details, judiciously doled-out twists, and dry
British humor . . . One hell of a toga party” —Entertainment Weekly
“Wonderfully entertaining” —Newsweek
“Places Downie alongside such established masters of the Roman historical as
Steven Saylor and Rosemary Rowe” —Publishers Weekly
“Ruso rocks. Let’s hear it for those Romans” —Kirkus Reviews
“Downie’s attention to detail—both historical detail and human detail—makes this
series a joy to read for the mystery lover, the classics fan, or anyone seeking more
character-driven genre fiction” — Historical Novel Society
Ruth Downie is available for interview and feature writing.
For more information please contact:
Joseph Thomas
joseph.thomas@bloomsbury.com – 020 7631 5863