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Not Forgotten

Not Forgotten - Neil Oliver This is a book on the memorials to the dead of the first world war, and the names on them and what exactly is remembrance. A war memorial is such a fabric of each town that we've probably long since stopped seeing them, let alone pausing to remember those who were named on them. And that gets increasingly difficult as WW1 becomes further removed. it's now outside living memory, the last people involved are dead, and I have to go back to my great grandparents to find a participant, 2 dead generations ago. So, what does it mean to remember? well this book tries to do this by looking at a number of memorials, and tracing the story of one or two names that are mentioned, it also takes a couple of instances (battles, a sea and rail disaster) and looks at what happened to one or two people there. By taking individual names, then taking them back to their grave or memorials. It makes it more intimate - the sheer scale of numbers makes it impossible to take in the enormity of WW1 at a glance. It's a good project, but it did feel a little like he wanted to make a point, but was pulling his punches. The chapters are all very short, 2-3 pages at most. It was to accompany a TV series, and i do wonder if that has anything to do with the style. It's not a survey of war memorials, but it does look at how they were raised, some of the bigger and smaller instances. It is worth noting that not all of them are standard memorials. My home town, for instance, has a roll of honour in the church, but the War Memorial (as paid for by public subscription) is, wait for it, the bus shelter on the village square. Yes. really. This might not change the way you think but it might just make you look at the memorial next time you pass it.

Power and Glory

Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible - Adam Nicolson This is such an interesting book. The King James bible runs as a thread through English culture. Even if we've never read very much of it, we've all heard phrases from it, going to back to earliest nativity plays. this takes the reader through the genesis of probably the only work of art ever created by committee. It covers the society from which the text emerged, the task of the translators and the other texts on which they drew. It also deals with some of the various people involved in the task of translating. there is very little evidence of the process of the translation, but what is available is presented so that the care and attention that went into the translation is clearly seen. He also discusses the more recent efforts at translating, the new English Bible of the 1970s coming in (justifiably, to my mind) for no little criticism for removing the majesty and mystery of the King James. A very interesting book on the birth of a very important book.

Journal of Katherine Mansfield

Journal of Katherine Mansfield - Katherine Mansfield, John Middleton Murry I'm really undecided about this one. It is the journal of Katherine Mansfield, with entries from 1904 to 1921. It's not a diary, in that there aren't entries for each day/date (although she does seem to start each new year more assiduously than she carries on), it also includes unfinished letters, starts of stories, even just paragraphs of stories, as well as a record of events.And, while i like the way she writes, I found myself not liking her at all. I thought she was selfish and self absorbed, at times particularly cruel, particularly to people she owes thanks to, she thinks she is intellectually superior, yet undisciplined and seems to have little in the way of will power and self control. And then there are the times when she is clearly in a depression, thinks herself unable to write, thinks that she is of little worth. I suspect she would have been impossible to live with and wonder if that "artistic temperament" might well have been mental illness, possibly along the lines of manic depression.And yet, in spite of not finding her an attractive person, I still find myself wanting to read her work. The passages of stories that were started and abandoned have such life and verve in them, that I can't help wanting to see more of that.The edition I read was published in 1954, an updated version of the first edition of her journal published by her husband (who I don't envy one little bit) in 1927.

Minding Frankie

Minding Frankie - Maeve Binchy This book surprised me. Never read anything by this author - always looked a bit too twee. But, having read one, that is doing her a disservice. This book follows the first year of young Frankie's life. She doesn't have the best of starts, being an accidental child, conceived on a presumed drunken night out. Her mother has terminal cancer and, as expected fails to survive the cesarean section. Thus Frankie comes into the world motherless. but she does have a father. Noel is one of life's drifters and is in a dead end job and a drunk. But, somehow, Frankie manages to pull him out of himself and he determines to turn life around. in this he is helped by a whole cast of characters in the street. there is a fly in the ointment, and that's the Social worker, Moira, who is portrayed very much as being the enemy - always looking for every slight slip that Noel might make as an excuse to remove the child from his care.Initially I thought this was far too twee. I don't know that communities of this sort really exist any more (not to say that's a good thing), but as the book progressed, it became clear that appearances are sometimes deceptive. Real life things do happen in this community, jobs are lost, true love fizzles and turns sour, children of settled family are nothing of the sort, it all happens. There is something to be said about a child being brought up in a loving, if unconventional household, rather thane being brought up in a conventional family, albeit completely without love, care & affection. And this point was made from several angles. It's a cast of thousands, but they're all somewhat believable. And, I will admit to being reduced to tears by the death. That would be the way to go, if one had to go at all. So, in summary, better than I had expected. Not afraid to dodge reality, even if there is still a sense of things falling into place. It's not a fairytale ending, but you do leave the book thinking that they'll muddle through and that things may well just turn out alright in the end.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A Novel (Random House Movie Tie-In Books)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A Novel (Random House Movie Tie-In Books) - Deborah Moggach meh.Tells of a plan to set up an English retirement home in Bangalore, taking advantage of the low costs, the availability of staff and the better weather to entice a group of old people out of their unhappy situations and to try something new in the last stage of their life. It all felt just a little far-fetched. The characters struck me as slightly two dimensional and stereotyped. the energetic retired couple, the cockney who'd never moved away from her street, the solitary women - be that by death or lack of partner and Norman, who (inadvertently) starts the whole thing. He, with his blue jokes, general coarseness, casual racism and sexism put me in my of my not sorely missed grandfather. I didn't like him (or his cut from the same cloth friends) very much either. It all seemed a little bit predictable, from the finding love in strange places to the life can start again whatever age you are messages. Maybe you have to be either a very long way from dealing with this to find it at all amusing, I found it kept falling a bit flat.

English Passengers: A Novel

English Passengers - Matthew Kneale This is such fun! Narrated by the various characters that appear, there are a number of strands of story - a smuggling expedition gone wrong, a mad voyage to discover the Garden of Eden, an anthropological travesty of research, the convict system in Tasmania and the fate of the Tasmania aborigines. These various strands all come to a knot in Tasmania in the 1850, when the expedition lands. Some of the characters are lovely, some plain potty and some really very unpleasant - but all are products of their time and place. the views of the doctor are unacceptable to the modern ear, but that doesn't mean they were not expressed and taken to be true at the time. Some of those featured come out of this quite well. Renshaw ceases to be dissolute and finds a purpose in life, Captain Quewley doesn't get hanged for smuggling (which is a bit of a result really) and Peevay finds lands and a tribe to call his own. The others get (to differing degrees) their just deserts. Listened to on audiobook where there were a number of different actors reading the different parts just made this a more enjoyable listen. It really worked well. Great fun.

The Gemini Contenders

The Gemini Contenders - Robert Ludlum Not at all my usual thing, but this was quite good. I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't something this inventive and with good pace and drive to the narrative. not always 100% believable, but that's the point of adventure, sometimes it is a bit out of the ordinary. Starts in 1939, with a Greek monastic sect (who are very slightly round the bend) smuggling a big crate of something that would have repercussions on the fate of the whole world, it would divide the allies and change the entire course of history should it fall into the wrong hands. They trust an Italian aristocrat with the secret and he hides this away in a secret location. Due to an nasty incident, the family's reduced to just the eldest son, who hasn't been taken into his father's confidence, but has an uphill struggle trying to get anyone to believe that. The contents of the crate diminish in importance under some classic WW2 derring-do, but surface intermittently, when it becomes clear that someone's not been telling the whole truth here. There's an attempt to resolve the situation at the end of WW2, but that has some unpleasant consequences, and the son puts it behind him. But that's not the end of it. Some 30 or so years later, a few strange coincidences start to crop up, leaving the son with one last attempt to try and solve the riddle. This proves his undoing and the baton is passed to his twin sons, (the Gemini of the title). They're about as different as chalk & cheese, one being a lawyer, the other a soldier. They are brought together and their father plainly hopes they will work together to solve the problem, bringing their different skills to bear. Need I say it doesn't work out that way?This has overtones of [b:The Da Vinci Code|968|The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2)|Dan Brown|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1303252999s/968.jpg|2982101], with a powerful secret that could blow apart the modern church which is being sought by conflicting parties, some nicer than others. However, it's some significant portion better than that tommy rot. This has pace, engaging characters and I found myself being sucked along with the rollercoaster ride. This is shelved on my husband's bookcases, along with a fair few other examples. I might not devour them in one go, but I might well take another visit to that corner of the bookcase.

The History of the Kings of Britain

The History of the Kings of Britain - Geoffrey, Michael A. Faletra I'm uncertain of how to file this. It's presented as history, but that's slightly "history" in the sense that Herodotus wrote "history" as well. It is and it isn't. It purports to tell the history of the kings of Britain, from the founding of the nation by Brutus, to the point at which the Saxons gain dominance. In places it's clearly fiction - the prophesies of Merlin & tales of King Arthur are clearly not FACT. but that's not to say that the entire book should be dismissed so lightly. It's one of those books which has influenced so many other piece of work that parts of it you know without ever having read it before. For example, the section where King Arthur was summoned to pay tribute to Rome & takes umbrage is clearly closely related to the source material for the poetical version to be found in [b:The Death of King Arthur: A New Verse Translation|10955086|The Death of King Arthur A New Verse Translation|Unknown|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1302208933s/10955086.jpg|20963433]. This is the oldest source for the king Arthur myth where his life is presented and he's portrayed as a King of the Britons. That being the case, it has an enormous impact on a significant portion of English Literature thereafter. It's also the first known source for the stories of King Lear & Cymbeline, which were referenced in various works that ended up in Holinshed's Chronicles, which Shakespeare "borrowed" from.The cover notes that this is the "food & drink of poets and provocative goad to historians" and I think that does it justice. it doesn't fit the modern interpretation of the term "history" but it was written to serve a purpose and we can only assume (with the prevalence of 12th to 14th century manuscripts) it served that purpose admirably. the notes with the book put it into context and also makes notes on Geoffrey's sources and other references. I did have to shift my mindset while reading this, from a non-fiction to a story point of view, but I still enjoyed it.

Field Guide to the English

A Field Guide To The British - Sarah Lyall Although abandoned is more the mark. I made it to page 50 before hurling this accross the room and into the recycling. This claims to be an amusing view of the English as seen by an American, casting her perceptive eye over the nation.On the basis of the first 50 pages she is proving neither amusing nor perceptive. Thus far the topics covered include sex (with a diversion into public school, homosexuality and beatings) then parliament (concentrating solely on the poor little women MPs and how they had to overturn a nasty male environment).I suggest that if Ms (not Miss or Mrs - need I say more) Lyall wishes to understand this country she stop resorting to stereotype and cliche to reinforce her preconceived ideas.

The Children of Men

The Children of Men - P.D. James This is a good book, but the timings make reading it a somewhat strange experience. Published in the early 90s, the world has not seen a child born since 1995, while the book is written from a stanpoint of 2021. So the book is describing past events (that didn't happen) while still being set in the future. I found it a little difficult to turn my brain off from noticing this. It could almost do with reprinting - and shifting all the dates along 20 years!Anyway, on to the story, which is actually very good. The central character is Theo Fallon, an Oxford Don who specialises in Victorian history. He happen to be cousin of Xan, the despot who styles himself "Warden of England" Actually he runs the whole of the UK, but thinks that title sounds best. The book starts with Fallon hitting 50 and starting a diary, he also starts reviewing his life and various events. He isn't an easy character to love, being not very sympathetic in that regard, but his redeeming feature is that he at least recognises that. He becomes involved in a group of 5 very disparate people who want to (for a range of very different reasons) bring about changes in the way the country is run. For some of them this is a religous standpoint, for others it is simply a desire for power. The book is as much about the nature of faith and how the population would respond to a scenario in which hope for the future has been remoived. No children means that a lot of the activites we perform become more and more meaningless - so how & why carry on? The topic of euthenasia is also a central matter - what do you do with an ailing and increasingly infirm population - when there's no-one to look after them. It's a pretty bleak picture that's painted. And yet it ends in hope. Maybe a forlorn hope and there's no guarentee that the human race will recover, but hope none the less. It's a perfectly convincing portrayal of an umimaginable situation.

Revelation **UK SIGNED**

Revelation - C.J. Sansom This mystery has some of the most inventive murders I've read - which is a sort of compliment really - honest. Set when Henry VIII is looking to make Catherine Parr his 6th wife, it tells of a country where religious turmoil has cause the country to fragment - there are all manner of religious flavours, some are flavour of the month, others are being suppressed and all this at the whim of the King. The barrister here, Matthew Shardlake, is one of those who has lost faith, but is still an eager minded lawyer. he is drawn into the affair when his friend is murdered & left to be found in the fountain in the Inns of court. The affair is hushed up by the coroner, but Shardlake soon finds that this is on orders from above - and is then involved in the intrigue of court and discovering who the deranged killer is. The murders follow a sequence from the book of Revelation (hence the title) and, as I said, are most inventive. It's rather convoluted, but it is more an intellectual exercise than a gory one. Shardlake is an interesting character, taking cases that merit attention, not just those that pay well. He also seems to gather waifs and strays to himself, but takes care of those he allows close. But this covers more ground than just the murders. There are intertwined stories concerning madness, religious persecution and the treatment of the poor post the dissolution of the religious houses who used to provide this safety net. The information about Bedlam and the availability of legal counsel to the poor is very interesting, as is the emergence of a more modern view of medicine, as represented in the book. It feels like a very distant past, but it is brought to life quite vividly here. It's a good enough book, and there are others in the series that would be worth a look if I came across them.

The Remains Of The Day

The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro This is a lovely book. It manages to be moving and melancholy without actually being depressing. In fact it ends on a hopeful, optimistic note; looking to the future after the rest of the book has been spent surveying the past. Mr Stevens is the Butler at Darlington Hall, which was in the hands of Lord Darlington, until his death 3 years ago, when it was sold to an American, Mr Farraday. Stevens seems to have been part of the package, as it were. While his employer is off on an extended holiday, Stevens takes advantage of a generous offer and borrows the car for a week to do some motoring - and to visit Miss Kenton (now Mrs Benn) who he knew as the housekeeper at Darlington Hall in the years before the war. Stevens spends a great deal of his time as he progresses down the country looking back over his life, how he came to be a Butler, what he thinks of the profession, Lord Darlington and his efforts between the wars to lessen the severity of the Versailles Treaty and, later, to bring about peace between Britain & Germany. Stevens also remembers a number of instances where Miss Kenton is wrapped up in his memory. There is the suspicion that there could have been something between them if ever either could have managed to penetrate Stevens' thick professional veneer. He was a career butler and it takes more than the major emotional upsets in life (the death of his own father, for instance) to shake him into admitting he has emotions, let alone acting on them. Written in the late 80s from a standpoint of the tale being told in the 50s, the book is looking back to happenings of the interwar years. It is a story of time passed. There is sadness in that you can't change what has passed, be that personally or in the wider context. Should Stevens have had opinions about the affairs he was close to? To the modern mind the answer is yes, but that was a different world and things were different. The end of the book has the surmise that the evening is the best past of the day, that you should be able to take pride in what has been achieved, and rest up at the end of the day, to look back on a day well spent. That might also apply to a life. Stevens' age is never divulged, but he must be in his 60s if not more at the time this is set, such that he could well be considering a life well spent. It's not a book in which much happens, it is a elegiac piece, mourning a past world, and past actions that were done or not done - that moment allowed to slip past. That moment with which only the benefit of hindsight can identify as a turning point. But it ends with a positive outlook, life cannot be lived in retrospect and Stevens heads back to the hall after his break, planning on polishing up a new skill for the future. What more could we hope for than to follow his example to the end?


His Other Lover - Lucy Dawson This was a mildly diverting listen in the car.The surmise is that Mia is with Pete and thinks he's "the one" until she manages to fall over his phone in the night and sees a text from a mystery Liz. She reads it, it ends "xx" and she immediately jumps to the conclusion that he's having an affair. At which point she stops being an entirely rational human being and starts to act like a complete raving lunatic. She goes on the hunt for evidence of the affair, and duly finds some. And then does several more things that are designed to make Pete think the Liz has gone mad and is obsessed. Only the mad one here is most certainly Mia. She acts with the aim of driving a wedge between Pete & Liz, such that he come back to her and remembers how good they have been together and she retains her nice safe, cosy life with him at her side. Several times I found myself thinking that she had well and truly lost the plot, that no man was worth this level of effort and would you want him back knowing he could have the affair in the first place. There's a twist in the tail, and the ending is entirely unresolved, which is an interesting approach, but seemed to work. It's enjoyable chick lit rather than a great work of literature. But it certainly made the M6 marginally more enjoyable than it would otherwise have been.

Map of a Nation: A Biography Of The Ordnance Survey

Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey - Rachel Hewitt This is an interesting history of how the first Ordnance Survey map of England & Wales came to be produced and published in 1870. The story starts over 100 years earlier, with the problems the military had in pursuing the clansmen after Culloden - there was no map to refer to - all the geographical knowledge was in the heads of the locals. this progresses from a survey for purely military purposes, through estate maps of the landed gentry to wide ranging linguistic, geologic, naturalistic and geographic surveys of the British Isles (plus further flung territories). The various characters that played a prominent role in the undertaking are described and it is quite an engaging read, not simply a dry recitation of dates.

Bel Canto

Bel Canto - Ann Patchett This was just wonderful. Some of the turns of phrase were just exquisite. It tells of a botched attempt to kidnap the president of a country that is never actually named. I have the feeling we're talking South American, from some of the Spanish sounding names of the natives, but it's never made clear where it's set. The action is concentrated on the vice president's mansion, where a birthday party is taking place for a Japanese industrialist who might want to build a factory. The star attraction is a Soprano called Roxanne Koss, and at the very point she finishes the final aria, the lights go out & the terrorists appear through the airvents. However the president's not there - he's at home watching his favourite soap opera. The story then proceeds through the initial tense stages of negotiation, and a red cross worker (who was on holiday) appears to play a role in the undertaking. The terrorists are an intriguing mixture of generals and very young boys who are initially impossible to identify. However, as the story unfolds, they become individuals and their specific talents and characters unfold. The same is true of the hostages. After some initial confusion, the number of hostages is reduced to 40, including a translator and a priest (who decides to stay, when offered freedom). They, too, emerge from an amorphous whole to become a series of individuals, who have to find ways of getting along and coping in the situation they find themselves. They all have their specific talents and roles to play in the progression of the story. The presence of the soprano means that there is a musical theme that runs through the entire piece. The hostages are all half in love with her - or is it with her music? it's probably a mixture of both. It has a powerful impact on the story at several points and leaves a lasting impression. There's an air of melancholy over the entire thing - you know from the start that this does finish and you have the sense that it doesn't finish happily for all concerned. But that's not to say it isn't filled with beauty and hope. As the siege is prolonged, the conversations increasingly turn to thoughts of when this is over and all sorts of possibilities present themselves between the hostages and various terrorists. That these are destined to not happen contributes to the air of melancholy, but also illustrates how you can't judge a person by the clothes they wear or the people they are associated with. I think it might just have had 5 stars had I read it, not listened to it. I have the audiobooks in the car (on the grounds that I may as well do something mildly more edifying with my hour plus commute than listen to the radio) meaning that you can't actually immerse yourself in the story - at least some portion of the brain has to pay attention to the task at hand. But this means that I can't ever loose myself in the book - and this is one book that I think it would have been possible to loose track of time and space had I been reading it.

Six Wives of Henry VIII (Women in History)

The Six Wives Of Henry VIII (Women In History) - Antonia Fraser I've been on a bit of a Tudor kick recently, what with this, Alison Weir's Innocent Traitor (the life of lady Jane Grey) and a CJ Sansom detective piece set at the courting of Catherine Parr. They've all tied together quite neatly. It's a long old book, but filled with 6 very different characters. At the start, the author sets out to explore the women who were married to Henry VIII, to get behind the rhymes (Katherine, Anne Jane, Anne, Katherine, Catherine - Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived) and the stereotypes to look at each one as an individual. It deals with the youth an upbringing of each lady, as well as how she interacted with the others, the court and the King. it's interesting that 3 of them were ladies in waiting to their predecessor. She also makes clear that while we know Henry married 6 times, he never did. To him each match was the last and the progression from wife to wife was driven by many complex factors. It's a good read, full of facts, but not at all dry. There are anecdotes and where evidence is suspect, the balance of probability is presented. There is even a review of their final resting places, which are wildly different in state. As the epilogue makes clear it's ironic that a man so obsessed with his heirs should have no descendants beyond his children.