Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Roman Mysteries Series

Titles: 17 including Thieves of Ostia, Secrets of Vesuvius, Pirates of Pompeii
also Quiz Books and Mini-mysteries

Author: Caroline Lawrence

Rating: * (1 star out of 3 possible, "C")
Recommended with Reservations

Audience: Middle-School

These unique historical fiction books follow four young detectives through the Roman Empire during AD 79-81. Readers will encounter Mount Vesuvius, Emperors Titan and Domitian, and the cities of Rome, Pompeii, Corinth, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Ephesus and others.

The books are so well-researched, with such a literate, classical feel I first rated them with 2 stars ("B"), but then realized there was quite a bit of violence and adult themes involved in the plot, so some families may prefer caution.

Crime Files: Four-Minute Forensic Mysteries

Titles: Shadow of Doubt; Body of Evidence

Author: Jeremy Brown/Scholastic

Rating: * (1 star out of 3 possible, "C")
Recommended with Reservations

Audience: 5th grade and up

CSI, meet 5th graders! Ahh, thank you school library, for opening up the world of forensic science for my 10 year old. Oh, what am I worried about? When I was her age I was watching Rockford Files and Quincy, M.E.

Seriously, some of these posts will be driven by the selections my 10 year old brings home from public school. She's finally at the age where I can't pre-select everything she comes across, but I can at least read it with her and talk about it.

Naturally I wondered what the content of these books would be like. The cover shows a manga-cartoon version of a morgue, complete with wounded body under sheets. How graphic would this get?

As it turns out, not too graphic. Yes, they are dealing with crime and death and frequently murder. But the mysteries are finished in 3 or 4 pages; not a lot of space for gorey details. Mainly they focus on obscure science to solve mysteries: did you know tonic water contains quinine which will glow brightly under ultraviolet light?

The good news with these mysteries is that criminals are brought to justice. They are also smartly written with well-developed characters and good vocabulary, as well as the before-mentioned science facts. Not extremely applicable science, but extremely entertaining for kids who have finished all the Encyclopedia Brown books.