Fortune's Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth by Terry Alford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received a copy of Fortune's Fool via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This is my eleventh review for Sophie and Suze's NetGalley Challenge.
Abraham Lincoln is such a global cultural icon that he is one of the few American presidents that I can recognise instantly, by face as well as name. Whether he would be so memorable now if he had not been assassinated when he was, before his career suffered some inevitable decline, is an interesting thought. And would anyone remember John Wilkes Booth as an actor, rather than an assassin?
Prior to reading Fortune's Fool I was aware of Booth's name and defining action, but knew nothing more about him. I think I now have a good overview of his life and understanding of his beliefs, bizarre though they are to modern sensibilities. Alford has obviously spent hours and hours researching his book and seems to have uncovered practically every public mention of Booth during his acting career. As the son of a famous thespian father, notices appear frequently, but therein lies my main problem with this book. By including so much minutiae, I found the pace very slow, and there are rarely great insights so Alford often has to make great leaps.
Booth was not a prolific writer so little remains of his own words and, while later interviews with friends and family have interest, it is impossible to tell how coloured their views are by What Happened. I still don't really know what turned an aspiring actor to a crazy fanatic. That he believed slaves were less than human and 'deserved' to be owned is obviously proven, but how he came to view Lincoln as a tyrant and dictator is unclear, especially as most of his time in the years prior to the assassination were spent in the North, rather than amongst similarly entrenched bigotry in the South.
A drier read than I usually like, Fortune's Fool did take me a long time to get through. It is interesting in short bursts, but then I kept forgetting who everyone was. And the information is too dense to read for hours at a time! The biography has led me to want to understand more about Booth and this period of American history though because I am left with more questions than answers.
Buy the hardback from Waterstones.
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Dave bought a copy of The Cellist of Sarajevo for our Kindle
The war in Sarajevo is still very close in time and was very close geographically so in reading The Cellist I had a strong sense that it could easily have been us in those situations. I find it relatively easy to distance myself from historical wars, but this book rang close and true. Perhaps the matter of fact tone of the prose is what does it? Galloway doesn't waste words on plot devices to add false excitement or include tenuous relationships to tug at readers' heartstrings. Indeed much of the book is spent with people waiting to cross roads. Such a simple action that most of us accomplish several times each day. Except in Sarajevo, crossing now might get you shot. Or now might be fine and another five minutes would be the wrong choice. I imagine living like that could only induce madness.
An amazing book that should be widely read to understand how easily people will slip into Them And Us, into hatred, and into war.
Buy the paperback from Waterstones.
Sinister Arcana Shards vol. 1 by S R Mulrune
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I follow 200 Word Tuesdays, a blog which gives out a monthly theme and encourages writers to submit 200 word stories on the topic. Having had a couple of Paragraph Planet successes, I intend to join in but haven't got past the reading stage yet! This morning, S R Mulrune had written an intriguing tale on the subject of chips. Following links, I discovered this Smashwords ebook which is free on the site throughout May so go get downloading!
Written as a series of 200 flash fiction paragraphs, each of which is roughly tweet length, Sinister Arcana Shards gives glimpses into a fantasy world at war, where races that were destroyed centuries ago still linger as malevolent presences and ruined cities litter the landscape. My imagination was able to leap into overdrive while reading because there are almost none of the normal descriptive passages so I could create the essential imagery solely from brief clues in the text. As a short book, this works pretty well. The main characters begin to develop and there is a definite story arc. It's like watching theatre while the strobe light is on!
Download the ebook from Smashwords.
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