Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Coin for the Ferryman by Rosemary Rowe

Note: This is my last week in Singapore and I have friends staying with me. So don't expect any updates until next week! Thanks :D 

So this is the last book of the Libertus series that I've been able to get my hands on in Singapore. Sigh, I really wish they had all the books, because I want to continue reading - it's definitely been getting more and more original.

A Coin for the Ferryman starts with a status change for Junio. Libertus has decided to make him a citizen and adopt him as a son! Junio is a really likable character, so I'm glad that something good is happening to him. He's even going to get engaged! Unfortunately, a corpse is found on the site of his future house (and the land of Marcus), which threatens to curse their new home if the spirit isn't appeased by Lemuria. Wanting the happiness of Junio and tasked to solve the mystery by Marcus, Libertus has to race against time to find out who the corpse is and why he was murdered. (And contrary to the blurb on the back, Junio doesn't play a significant role in this book - Libertus' temporary slaves play a bigger part)

This book reintroduced Kurso, who became Libertus' slave three books back. I'm only pointing it out because he completely wasn't mentioned in two books back (not sure about the previous book, because I haven't been able to get my hands on it). It makes me wonder if there's an inconsistency here.

I really liked the mystery in this book. Libertus engages in a lot of detective work, and I could almost follow along with his thought process this time. There wasn't much action (although there were a few deaths), but there was a hint of the family tension within Marcus' family. I would so dearly love to read a book that talked about Marcus' trip to Rome with Julia. His mother sounds insufferable, and the type of character you'll love to hate.

A lot of previously background characters take bigger roles here, as the characters mature and move into different roles. I like this change, and I'm hoping some of these 'new' stars will play a bigger role in the later books.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Enemies of the Empire by Rosemary Rowe

The 7th and second last book on this series that I've been able to get my hands on. That took much less time than expected - this books get finished very fast.

This story takes place in the outskirts of Britannia, where Libertus is accompanying Marcus on a trip. But, when one unfortunate night gets Libertus thrown in jail for suspicion of murder, the resulting investigations uncover not only a dead man walking, but a possible plot of rebellion.

The amount of investigative work in this story is higher than The Ghosts of Glevum, and the amount of action is probably roughly the same. After all the army is involved, even if a century of soldiers is only 80 people. Looks like we're moving towards a happy equilibrium here!

What I liked about this book was that it explored the tensions between the Roman conquerors and the conquered Celts. While Libertus is a Celt, he has a lot of vested interest in making sure that his Patron Marcus survives, and after that long period in captivity, he's pretty much integrated into Roman life. Same for his wife and slave Junio (Junio was even born in slavery, which means he's the most "Roman" of them all). So it was interesting for the book to go to a more rural area and look at the anti-Roman sentiment. I particularly enjoyed all the little pieces of history trivia.

It's a pity that I've run out of books and time to read. I'm hoping that because the later books are published later, I can get my hands on a physical copy. Either that, or it's really really time to get an Amazon gift card because it seems like all the books are on Kindle.

Love love loved this series. It especially picked up in the later half, because it deviated from the pattern of the first few books and got more and more original.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Ghosts of Glevum by Rosemary Rowe

Book 6 of the Libertus series, and it threw me for another surprise! I really think that Rosemary Rowe got more confident after book 4 and started taking more risks. Book 5 and Book 6 have been more original in terms of the mystery and the situations that Libertus gets in.

In book 6, Libertus gets to explore the underside of society. When the guest of honor dies, Marcus, Libertus' patron, is accused as the murderer. When the charges are escalated to conspiracy against the Emperor, Libertus has to find the real culprits before everything is too late. Oh, and at the same time, he's being hunted down, so he can't investigate as normal.

So why is the book called The Ghosts of Glevum? Because Libertus is thrown together with a group of beggars, thieves and the lowest of the low. Those are the people that he has to pay for any scrap of information.

And I'm not sure if that makes me a callous person, but I had absolutely no sympathy for the ghosts of Glevum. I know that they have to eke out a living any way they can, but their opportunism and lack of charm makes it awfully hard for me to sympathise with them. In fact, it's only at the very end of the book that one of them (only one) does something that we can call "generous".

Mystery-wise, it's a bit disappointing. Since Libertus spends most of the book on the run from the law, there's very little investigating going around. In fact, I re-read the ending a few times, and I still don't understand how Libertus managed to piece it all together.

Overall, this is a pretty good story. It's an interesting look at the darker side of Roman Britain (remember, read the introduction so you know how much of it is accurate). Mystery-wise, it was meh, and I'm hoping the next book ramps up the investigating and the deducing again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Legatus Mystery by Rosemary Rowe

We're at Book 5 of the Legatus series, and oh my, it's totally different from the first four books! For one thing, there isn't a body - at least not at first.

When the Emperor sends a Roman Ambassador to Glevum, everyone is thrown into a tizzy getting ready. Unfortunately for the priests of the Imperial Cult, there's a dead body in the temple (incidentally also the temple of Jupiter). But when Libertus goes to investigate, the body disappears. And then reappears. And in the meantime, blood appears out of nowhere, and a ghostly wail is heard throughout town.

The set-up alone makes it different from the previous four books, but there's an added twist here. Libertus is hunted down by a mob. The series sees probably the most action so far as Libertus has to out-think and out-run a mob with help from Junio and his wife. It certainly kept me glued to the book, flipping page after page after page.

Plus, the characters in this book are interesting. I don't think more than one new character will become a recurring character in the series, but their personalities made a strong impression on me.

By the way, it is worth reading the introduction in this book. Since the book deals with the Imperial Cult, history purists will be interested in seeing which sections of the book are accurate and which sections were made up by the author.

I think this book makes for a nice change in the series. The murder mystery is unusual, Libertus doesn't get to do what he normally does, yet somehow, he manages to solve it. I am definitely more motivated to read on after this.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Teaser Tuesday - A Coin for the Ferryman by Rosemary Rowe

This is the last Libertus Mystery book the library has, and I'll be finishing it just before my friends come. Yay!

I'm sort of happy and sad that I'm at the end of the series (for now, until I figure out how to buy the later books). The teaser for today:

Something that might have been a smile half spread across his face. It gave him the appearance of a crafty bear. (Page 76)

What is your teaser this week?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Murder in the Forum by Rosemary Rowe

This may be the third book in the series, but it was the fourth (or was it fifth?) book that I read. So really, order isn't that big a deal, unless you're deeply, deeply interested in the relationships.

By that I mean Libertus and his long lost wife, Marcus and his new wife (this was started in the previous book, A Pattern of Blood (link to review) ) and Junio and an unamed slave girl (also started in the previous book). Personally, I don't think it's that important, since apart from Libertus, all the romances aren't integral to the plot at all.

In this book, Libertus is called to investigate a politically sensitive mystery. Felix, a favourite of the emperor, dies suddenly. At first, everyone thinks it's an accident, but with one guest who came under false pretenses, and who is conveniently missing (there's another missing guest too), there's definitely more to this case than it seems.

There was a twist to this case that I definitely didn't expect. In fact, I just realised that Libertus is very much like Poirot - he keeps his cards to his chest, and then he reveals everything at one go. The only difference is that the book is told through the eyes of Libertus and not his sidekick (like how Poirot's mysteries are mainly told through the eyes of Hastings or whoever is his sidekick).

It's an enjoyable book, though it's very much like the previous books in the series (actually, it's probably the similar in style to books 1 to 4)

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Chariots of Calyx by Rosemary Rowe

The fourth book in the Libertus series, this follows the whole 'Libertus is unwillingly dragged into a mystery again'. After the third book, where he caught a glimpse of his lost wife, he's especially unwilling to investigate.

But, Libertus is accompanying the Roman Governer (of what was then Britain), so he has no choice but to investigate the death of Caius, the chief corn-officer - a pretty important guy in Roman times. Caius' mother is insistent that the murderers are his young wife and her lover, the charioteer Fortunas. But, his first wife and son still live in the same household, and they all have a pretty strong motive for murder. When Libertus gets beaten up and another body is found, it's clear that there's more to this case than what everyone first thought.

As always, there's a twist in this story that I did not see coming. In fact, I have yet to find a story in this series where I could predict the murderer. I guess I'm losing my touch. I had to re-read the ending of the book a few times before I even saw all the clues.

The characterisation here doesn't move forward very much. Most of the book is wrapped up in the mystery. The only surprise came at the end, because Libertus' search for his wife made a huge huge jump. I'm not saying anymore because that would be a spoiler, but suffice to say, if you're interested in this particular subplot, then this book is a key turning point. Extremely important turning point.

I'm still loving this series. I hope I can find a used copy one day and get the whole collection.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Germanicus Mosaic by Rosemary Rowe

The first book in the series, The Germanicus Mosaic, follows Libertus, a freed slave, as he's tasked by his patron to solve a murder mystery.

Libertus had previously worked on a floor for a retired Centurion named Germanicus. However, shortly after he finishes the work, Germanicus is found murdered. Initial suspiscions fall on one of Germanicus's slaves, who was known to be close to the master and could imitate people well. However, when that slave turns up dead, and Libertus is attacked while investigating, it's clear that the simplest solution is not always the correct on.

In fact, the ending of the book contained a surprise twist. It made sense when I re-read it (I found a lot of the clues Libertus talked about), which is something that I really enjoy. This is the sort of book that you can read more than once, in order to pick up on the little clues that you missed. Sort of like an Agatha Christie mystery, but set in Rome-occupied Britain.

Since this is the first book, the subplot involving Libertus and his long-lost wife isn't that strong. All we know is that he is searching for her. The emphasis on this book is on the mystery.

As a first book, this does a nice job of setting the surrounding and characters for us. The relationship between Libertus and his patron Marcus (who doesn't pay him because it would be an 'insult'), and Libertus and his slave Junio are established here, and will be developed more in the later books.

All in all, this is a great start to the series. I really enjoyed it, even if it wasn't the first book of this series that I read :p

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Teaser Tuesday - Murder in the Forum by Rosemary Rowe

As part of my Libertus series review, my Teaser Tuesday is also going to be from the latest book that I'm reading. It's the third book in the series - Murder in the Forum. And I'm basically devouring it in one go, surfacing for internet every now and then.

Here's the teaser:
"I closed my eyes again, and, proffering my hands, let the handmaidens rub ointment into my wrists where the leather thong had chafed them. There were some advantages, I thought languorously, to having had my patron become a married man."  (Page 165)
What is your teaser this week?

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Pattern of Blood by Rosemary Rowe

A Pattern of Blood is the 2nd book in the Libertus Series. As I mentioned before, I'll be starting with this book because of nostalgia.

A Pattern of Blood follows Libertus as he's sent to investigate an attack on a decurion named Quintus Ulpius (which he coincidentally witnessed while looking for his wife). Unfortunately, Quintus is successfully murdered before Libertus can even talk to him. Libertus's patron Marcus is convinced he knows who the murderer is, but Libertus isn't convinced. And so, he starts investigating.

This was a really fun murder mystery, if the word fun is even appropriate. I enjoyed following Libertus about as he investigated, and reading about how he manages to persuade people to give him information, or twist his patron around so that he gets more time to investigate.

Plus, like a proper mystery, the identity of the murderer is deduced, not found out when the 'detective' 'accidentally' stumbles into something that oh-so-conveniently reveals the identity of the murder (I'm looking at you, ending of If Books Could Kill (Link needed), and all the other books like you).

While this book is set in the time of ancient Rome, the place is Corinium (modern Cirencester). So it's technically in the UK. There are lots of references to how this isn't like Rome, but all that talk of togas had me thinking in terms of the Colosseum and hot weather, which I'm guessing is quite far off the mark. That's what my brain gets for jumping to conclusions.

In conclusion, I really liked this book. From the foreword, it appears that the author has taken pains to be as accurate as possible. I liked how the setting pulled me into another world, and I enjoyed the mystery as well.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Libertus Series by Rosemary Rowe

A long time ago, at a friend's house, I read a murder mystery set in Ancient Rome. I'm not too sure what it was, but I remember enjoying it, and I remember something about blood letting and a bowl of blood. It took me a long time, and I'm still not too sure, but I'm pretty sure that the Libertus series is what I'm looking for. So when I managed to go to the Central Library (the only place with the books), I borrowed about three of them at one go and devoured them.

So for the next few weeks, I'll be trying to catch up on the series, and will be reviewing them every alternate day or two.

There are 13 books in total. Screenshot from Goodreads. 
I'm going to break with tradition and review A Pattern of Blood, the second book in the series, before The Germanicus Mosaic, the true start. Why? Because A Pattern of Blood contains a bowl of blood, and is most similar to the book I remember reading. So I'll start with that, then go on to review the books in chronological order.

But, what I've noticed so far:

The mysteries are largely unrelated to each other. The same few characters appear, but other than that, it seems like you can read them out of order. The only connecting thread is that Libertus is searching for his lost wife. That's the only thing that will not make sense if you read the books outside of chronological order.

Alright, I think all introductions are done. So, enjoy the week of Libertus Mystery reviews~

Thursday, September 4, 2014

If Books Could Kill by Kate Carlisle

I picked this up while randomly walking through the central library. I like mysteries, and I like books, so obviously I was going to take a "gamble" and read this.

When I cracked open the book, the first line made me smile and put me in a good mood for the rest of the book:
"If my life were a book, I would have masking tape holding my hinges together. My pages would be loose, my edges tattered and my boards exposed, the front flyleaf torn and the leather mottled and moth eaten, I'd have to take myself apart and put myself together, as any good book restoration expert would do."
For some reason, that paragraph made me so happy I enjoyed the whole book. Then I started thinking about it.

If Books Could Kill follows book restoration expert Brooklyn Wainwright at the Edinburgh Book Fair. After she's shown a controversial book, the guy that shows it to her is found murdered. So you would expect looks of bookish-related things in this book right?

But no.

First off, the controversy was not something I understood. But then again, I'm not British, so I suspect that's only natural (it involves the past of the British monarchy).

But more importantly, the bookish aspect was minimal. In fact, this felt like a romance-mystery book. The whole book has Brooklyn getting into trouble, and various men get her out of it. Along the way, there's a secret wife, the police inspector likes her friend, and a catty rival shows up. Not much bookish stuff in here, apart from two seminars and a contest that I didn't even know she entered. It was more like a series of events that resulted in the murderer revealing himself to her, rather than her deducing who it was (she doesn't actually figure out anything).

So while this was a fun book, don't go into this expecting a strong bookish aspect. If you like romance with a bumbling heroine that always gets into trouble, then this will be the book for you. If you want conspiracy and mystery and murder, you may be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Plant Your Feet Firmly by Marie Chow

When I saw the term "Asian-American" in the book description, I immediately requested it. Although I'm not an ABC (American Born Chinese), I'm a Singaporean-Chinese. So I do have an interest in the other groups. After all, Asian-Americans and non-Mainland Chinese are rather different from each other (and from Mainland Chinese, and Hong Kong-ers and Taiwanese), so I was really interested in learning more about them.

Since this is an anthology, I decided to review them separately, looking at:
a. How much I enjoyed it
b. How 'Asian-American' it was.

Cosmetics - Basically a series of letters from a grandfather to his granddaughter. I must admit, while I thought the grandfather was adorable, I didn't understand how this relates to Asian-Americans. The most is the mention of "Orientals" vs "Asian Americans". It seems more to be a work of grandfatherly-granddaughterly bond and technology.

Mothers and Wives - Again, I don't see the Asian American connection here (are the protagonists even of Asian descent?). I did enjoy the look into the lives of three very different women though, as they gossip about their friend, and reflect on their past.

Something Positive, Something Encouraging - The wife is Asian, so yay! But this book is basically about a guy as he contemplates an affair/how he came really close to an affair, because his marriage seems to be breaking down. I suppose it's a look at inter-ethnic marriages.

Plant Your Feet Firmly, On Two Moving Boats - The titular story, and the one I enjoyed the most. It's an interesting look at the life of an Asian American, in all its complexity. It reminded me of the movie It's a Mad Mad Mad World 2. The list form that it's written in seems particularly appropriate.

Eulogy - After Plant Your Feed Firmly, this was sort of a let down. I didn't understand the point of the story. It seems to be people reacting to the death of another person, but... I don't get it. The second person narrative doesn't help either. It didn't seem particularly Asian-American

Laughter - The second marriage story. It doesn't seem Asian-American related in any way. I don't really like either person in this marriage, and I had a hard time feeling sympathy or connecting with them.

The Fourth Player - A story with a lot of potential. It looks at an eccentric Chinese lady (from Mainland China, but escaped to Taiwan), who makes up the fourth person in a mahjong group. Told through the eyes of her nosy group mates, the story only hints at the complexities in the family. I wish this story was elaborated (perhaps into a novel), because it holds the potential for a lot of depth. As it is now, it barely scratches the surface.

All in all, most of the stories do not seem connected to the Asian-American community. The Mad Mad Mad World movies (movies two and later) are probably a better (although dated) option. If this book was merely marketed as an anthology (although I'm not sure with what sort of theme, since they all seem rather disparate), I would have enjoyed it more, but as it is, I was let down by the absence of Asian-American themes.

Disclaimer: I got this review from the author via BookBlogging in exchange for a free and honest review.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Teaser Tuesday - Fly Away by Kristin Hannah

I love this week's teaser tuesday! I'm a huge fan of Kristin Hannah, and I'm so glad I managed to get my hands on a copy of her latest book (I think it's her latest book).

I won't waste anymore words. The teaser is:

"My audience wanted the fairy tale, so I gave it to them, and ours is an age of Disney tales, not Grimm's; evil has become animated lions and singing octopi. These new fairy tales are perfect for me." (Page 180-181)

Wheee, I love fairy tales!!

What is your teaser this week?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Savvy Chic by Anna Johnson

I saw this book... a few years ago I think. It was a month or two before I left Japan, so about 3 years? Anyway, I tend to be cautious about buying books (unless I'm in an airport bookstore, then it's "take a risk), and prefer to research about a book before I get it. This was one of the books that I put on my mental "to Google" list, and then promptly forgot about, with the excitement of moving to a new country.

When I saw this book in Scribd, and got a chance to read it as a part of the subscription library, I jumped at the chance. And well, I'm glad that I didn't plonk down the (rather substantial) amount of cash for this book back then.

Don't get me wrong, Savvy Chic is a nicely written book and I would have loved it - if I had a more bohemian style. While I admire the style, it's not something I wear, and the lifestyle is not something that I live. Which makes the book more or less useless to me.

I would have just enjoyed the book if it weren't for the fact that I disagreed strongly with a few points.

One piece of advice is
"When you throw a housewarming have each friend bring you a beautiful, completely individual wineglass and plate."
Admittedly, this is coming from a Singaporean point of view, but no. If I throw a housewarming, it's to celebrate my new house, and not to get something from my friends. If they ask what they should bring, that's another matter, but I won't demand things. I'd rather buy the wineglass and plate one at a time, while at flea markets and stuff.

Another would be her advice on bargaining. She advises you to bargain, but then remember, the store-owner has to make a living too! It's all very contradictory, and it confused me.

And there are other points, but those I disagreed with because I'm not bohemian, so it's really a personal thing.

Bottom line, if you're bohemian and proud of it, get the book. You'll probably love it. If you're like me, then you may just want to borrow the book first, to see whether it's worth it. Sure it's well-written and amusing, but if you're not going to use the advice, what's it for?