Friday, 19 June 2015

Bonbons (astral) by Francis P Savinien / We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler / The Plantagenets by Derek Wilson

Bonbons (astral)Bonbons by Francis P. Savinien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My first ForgottenBooks download for a while is this undated poetry collection by Francis P Savinien who, I think from his spelling, is an American poet. The book itself is undated and contains a few dozen short poems mostly quite overwrought affairs about life, death and love. Several are named for mythical people such as Bacchus, Eros, Medusa and the like. The writing style put me in mind of the art nouveau period but I'm not sure why!

I did enjoy reading these poems. Savinien employs different rhyming and rhythm devices to maintain interest, some more successfully than others. This isn't a volume that I think I would keep to return to, but reading it was a pleasant way to pass an evening.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dave bought the paperback of We Are Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler during his last Waterstones shopping spree when we returned to the UK in April. I hadn't read anything about it prior to picking up the book so didn't know anything about the 'otherness' of Fern until Fowler reveals her in the text. In her afterword, Fowler says that many people do already know and this doesn't detract from the novel. I don't want to give the secret away though - just in case there is still someone else out there in blissful ignorance. This stance does make reviewing the book a tad tricky!

I can say that We Are Completely Beside Ourselves is a very readable book, well plotted and with strong characters throughout. I liked our protagonist, Rosemary, a lot especially her discussions of memory and how events we think we remember aren't always as they actually were. We unwittingly alter our memories simply by repeatedly remembering them. The path that Rosemary's family chose to take - yes, I'm being deliberately vague for plot reasons - shocked me and I did google in disbelief. Scientists really did think this was a 'good' thing to do. There are several real life occurrences and relatively recently too!

This is certainly a thought-provoking book. Issues such as the consequences of lying to children, animal rights, scientific responsibility, our understanding of intelligence, and the blurred distinction between fighting for freedom / terrorism, are all thrust into the spotlight for the reader to consider. Fowler does include lots of long words so there were times when I wished I had it on Kindle with the inbuilt dictionary, but all in all, an engrossing and interesting novel.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

The Plantagenet Chronicles 1154-1485: Richard the Lionheart, Richard II, Henry V, Richard IIIThe Plantagenet Chronicles 1154-1485: Richard the Lionheart, Richard II, Henry V, Richard III by Derek Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having recently listened to an audiobook about The Vikings, I skipped the Norman invasion of Britain and rejoined our history with William The Conqueror's descendants still ruling at the beginning of the Plantagenet era. Derek Wilson's book is another overview and covers three hundred(ish) years from Henry II until the ascension of Henry Tudor in 1485. There are interesting snippets throughout the book including the Plantagenet name being the result of a sprig of broom, 'planta genet' in latin, worn in Geoffrey d'Anjou's hat. I learned that the Robin Hood era kings, brothers Richard (the Lionheart) and (bad king) John were actually remarkably similar characters, their historical remembrance as polar opposites the result of biased medieval Christian scribes - Richard only murdered and robbed Muslims overseas, John robbed Christian clergy within England. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose!

Huge social changes took place during the Plantagenet era such as the writing of Magna Carta (one surviving example of which we saw in Lincoln), the beginnings of Lollardy and individual religious freedom, the Peasant's Revolt, and the horrific plague years which saw the peasant class finding themselves with glimmerings of real power for the first. Unfortunately, Wilson gives these only brief mentions as most of the book, regardless of which King is on the throne, is a ceaseless round of war after war after war. The Plantagenets were essentially Normans who spoke French and saw their Kingdom as stretching from the Scottish borders straight down to southern France. The French disagreed, as did the Scots, Welsh and, on occasion, the Castilian Spanish, resulting in a merry-go-round of battles over the same bits of land that does make for dry reading, especially when sons are named for fathers. I frequently found myself with deja-vu!

Much of the military information in The Plantagenets I know has failed to sink in and I had to force myself to keep reading at times. For this reason I wavered between two and three stars, eventually setting on three as the history is well-written in itself. I just would have preferred more about the Kings' and the peoples' day-to-day lives.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

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