My family and other Romans by Marie Basting and Flavia Sorrentino

What a fantastic mix of fantasy, mythology and fun.  I must admit that I had not really taken on board the term LARP (Live Action Role Play) until I read this book.  That is not to say that I was unaware of the concept, it is just that when I was involved in English Civil War re-enactment in the 1970s, such terms had not been invented.  I am sure that many people have been to this type of events, from medieval jousting to World War 2, but this specifically relates to seeing the Ermine Street Guard  and other groups, who research and perform re-enactments of  Romano-British  army events.  I had heard of Housesteads and the excavations that have been going on there, but I was surprised that the well known fort of Vindalanda is only a couple of miles away, so these are now on my “to visit” list.

This is the story of Silvia Fortuna Juno De Luca, or Livi to her friends.  She lives up near Hadrian’s Wall with her father, who is a fanatical role player; anything from Lord of the Rings to his favourite, the Romans.  Everyone is just getting ready for a major re-enactment at Housesteads Fort when some strange things start happening.  Worst of all her father suddenly disappears without a word.  What follows is like something out of a really bad dream; she can’t really be taken to ancient Romana can she?  Not only that but she finds that her ‘missing’ mother is actually the Roman Goddess Bellona; something that I would not want to admit to, having had a look online for a description, but it seems that her uncle Vulcan is behind her father’s disappearance.  When Livi is persuaded that the only way to save her father is to retrieve a golden arrow from Vulcan, she takes up the challenge.  Needless to say things are not quite as she believed and ‘someone’ may have been telling her some lies!  However, you can’t keep a good role player down and with the help of her friends and a lot of ingenuity she might find a way to save her father and halt the army that Bellona is trying to conquer Britannia (Britain) with.

Marie Basting  has given us a fabulously funny but historically correct look at the goings on in the area of Hadrian’s Wall.  What a brilliant idea to have Bellona producing offspring who are linked to Roman mythology; so there are Romulus and Remus, who are are descendants of Medusa and have serpentine hair (snakes alive!); Poly is a cyclops, Tiber is a centaur, Scylla is a sea creature and then finally there is Felix, he seems very ordinary, but manages to spring a surprise towards the end of the story.  All of the characters have very individual quirks and personalities and I particularly love Tiber, who is a surfer dude and Vulcan, who turns out to be something of a hippy.

Above all this is really a story about the real meaning of friendship, community and family.  It is a fantastical mix of mythology, dressing up and building strong relationships.  I do hope we can have a few more adventures with Livi and her family.  this is a truly delightful 5 star story.


The Author

When Marie Basting was fifteen, she was told by a careers advisor that girls like her don’t become writers. For a long time, she believed this. But then something magical happened and Marie finally came to realise that girls like her can do anything they want.

Marie lives in Manchester with her husband, son and a giant, hairy woo-dog called Polly. When she’s not writing or annoying her family, you’ll find her supporting other girls and boys to follow their writing dreams.  Princess BMX is her debut novel.


Call of the Titanic by Lindsay Galvin and Gordy Wright

I think it is fair to say that Lindsay Galvin is fast gaining a strong reputation for her historical writing; in which she sheds new light on people and events from the past.  Her book “Darwin’s Dragons” was particularly memorable and emotional, so I must admit to having high expectations of this new work.

Most people probably think that they know the story of the Titanic, whether it is from the film of the same name, or from one of the many documentary programmes that have been televised over the years.  Over the years I have been lucky enough to visit exhibitions about the ship, but of course the new Museum in Belfast really brings home the size and quality of the vessel.  All of this gives us a very objective view of the ship and the catastrophe, but what Lindsay Galvin does is bring us to the heart and soul of the story.

The story is told from two differing viewpoints and also following different time lines.  On one hand, we have a fictionalised account of the testimony of Sid Daniels, a 14 year old steward (although 18 years old in real life), who was the last member of the crew to be saved by the Carpathia. His part of the story is shown as if written as testimony on a manual typewriter  and it is fascinating to have this real sense that we are reading the original words.  What strikes me as surprising is the dates given to the government enquiry, it is only two weeks after the actual tragedy and I can’t imagine that would happen in our modern age.  What also surprised me was the living conditions for the third class passengers that Sid was looking after.  There is a perception that conditions for those lower down the ship were really atrocious, but what comes across here is that they were probably better off than they would have been back in their original homelands.

The other half of the story follows the ‘adventures of young Clara Scott (aged 12 years) who is accidentally locked in a trunk at the family farm and ends up on the Carpathia, where her cousin is the wireless operator Harold Cottam.  When she finally escapes from the trunk, she is in the ship’s hold and has a gigantic Newfoundland dog keeping her company.  What follows makes for an exciting adventure in its own right, but it is the sequence of events  which make this such a chilling and yet unstoppable read.  However the two stories eventually converge and the heroism shown that night becomes all too clear.

The author has made Clara the absolute centre of the story, with Sid and Rigel (the dog) coming in as a  close joint second.  At the beginning I was not sure what I felt about this young girl, as she is very strong minded and not prone to listening to others.  However, this is shown to be  beneficial, with her feisty and determined attitude overcoming the often bigoted attitudes of some of the crew and passengers.  Lindsay Galvin has managed to paint a vivid and chilling scenario for one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.  It is one of those books that you just can’t stop reading, so start reading it early in the day!  As readers, we get a real sense of the research that has gone into the book and I found myself going off to check some details when I was reading.  Perhaps the most poignant aspect of this story is the way that the author is able to convey the reality of the ordinary people who were caught up in the events.  When major catastrophes take place we often forget about the ordinary people whose lives are devastated by what happens, but in this story the author has managed to bring these often unknown characters into the light.

This is one of those books where I feel that I am running out of superlatives, so it is probably best that I just finish by saying that everyone should read this book and it should find a home in every school and library.  This definitely gets 5 stars and probably deserves more.


The author Lindsay Galvin

“Lindsay was lucky enough to be raised in a house of stories, music, and love of the sea. She left part of her heart underwater after living and working in Thailand where she spent hundreds of blissful hours scuba diving. Forced now to surface for breath, she lives in sight of the chillier Sussex sea with her husband and two sons. When she is not writing, she can be found reading, running or practicing yoga. She has a degree in English Language and Literature, is fascinated by psychology and the natural world, and teaches Science. Lindsay hadn’t written creatively since childhood until the idea for her debut novel The Secret Deep splashed into her mind, and she now she’s hooked.”

Thank you to the Chicken House website for this biographical information.