Friday, August 22, 2014

a flower for the queen
Sometimes on the weekends, when I was little (under 10), they would play the best swashbuckling adventure movies on TV.  Sinbad, Robin Hood, King Solomon's Mines, etc.. Larger than life adventure and the romance was limited to longing looks & usually one passionate kiss.  These movies fired my imagination & led to endless hours of play and a desire to know more about Sinbad, Robin, and were King Solomon's mines for real?  This was the same feeling, minus the hours of play :), that A FLOWER FOR THE QUEEN evoked in me.  I wanted to learn more about these men and the flower Francis Masson was willing to risk life an limb for. My thoughts  5 stars Indiana Jones may have been created in homage to action stars of the 1930’s but Francis Masson, Carl Thunberg, and Captain James Cook were all flesh and blood men whose feats of derring do are documented.  For our reading pleasure Masson and Thunberg’s exploits in search of a flower in South Africa has been fleshed out with a touch of imagination to create A FLOWER FOR THE QUEEN. Masson, born in Aberdeen, was an under-gardener at Kew Gardens. He was the first plant collector sent by Sir Joseph Banks into the wilds of other countries to bring plants back to Kew Gardens.  Masson was brought to Banks’ attention by being in the wrong place at the right time or vice-versa depending on your perspective. Totally lacking any of the accepted academic or scientific qualifications and never having traveled Masson was thrown in the deep end to sink or swim. A much older Masson narrates his story to entertain the little brother of the young man responsible for rescuing him from a Montreal ice storm, thus saving his life. Imagine facing lions, hyenas, deadly duplicitous two-legged beasts, and certain death more than once.  Not for a priceless ancient relic or an object believed to be the receptacle of undreamt of power but for a flower. A rare incredibly beautiful flower but a flower none the less.  This devotion and willingness to risk life and limb for a flower inspired a desire to know more about these men, Thunberg and Masson, and their passion for plants and flowers. Adventure that calls to mind the swashbucklers of the 1940’s and 50’s based on actual historical figures, facts, with romance that hearkens back to the days of a longing look and possibly one passionate kiss if you were lucky, no heaving bosoms or manly chests need apply, is what you get with A FLOWER FOR THE QUEEN.  History brought to vibrant poignant life. A FLOWER FOR THE QUEEN pushed all my gushing reader buttons. I loved the way it made me feel, the pure innocent enjoyment it evoked, just like those old movies. I can’t recall the last time a book made me feel like that…Highly recommended. The excerpt ;is from the very beginning when Jack, against his father's wishes, bolts from their carriage to search for & hopefully save the old man they'd seen by the side of the road.
 "This ice storm. It's quite something, isn't it?" asked the old man.  "It's the first time I've seen one. This climate, though, the cold....I fear it is something I will never get used to." "Are you not from around here?" "From England, well, originally I'm Scottish but His Majesty the King sent me here a few years ago." "Really?" asked Jack, the surprise in his voice making plain his skepticism. "In what capacity, may I ask?" "I am, I was...his gardener.  I suppose you could say that I came here to hunt. They are such elusive things, flowers, and this cold is much worse than I expected.  I had become so used to the heat..." his voice trailed off as he slipped into reverie. "My knowledge of geography is not what it ought to be," said Jack, his patience beginning to wane, "but I don't recall England having a particularly hot climate, and Scotland even less so." "Quite right."  Mr. Masson drained the last of his tea.  "But you see, I did most of my collecting in Africa." "Africa?" cried Robert, his eyes shining. "Did you see lions? Did you get to kill one?" "Really, Robert!" Jack scoffed. "It was very nearly the lion that killed me?" exclaimed the old man. "Please trust me when I tell you, young sir, that facing a lion is not something I would like to experience ever again." "Can you believe it, Jack?" cried Robert.  Jack could not.  "How big was it? How did you kill it? Did you use a gun or a spear?" Robert jumped up and ran around the room holding an imaginary rifle and making shooting noises. "Now, Robert," interrupted Jack, turning towards his brother and adopting the same stance and tone of voice he had seen his father use so many times before. "I am sure Mr. Masson is too worn out to tell stories. Leave him be." "It's no trouble at all, Mr. Grant, really," the old man reassured him, before turning to Robert and saying in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, "In Africa, there were hippopotamuses too. Do you know what they are? Hippopotamus amphibius..." With Robert's mouth agape as the old man began to embark on a detailed description of the quadruped........

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