Drop-Dead Gorgeous new Bloomsbury Covers…

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These covers are doing the rounds online, but damn if it isn’t easy to see why. Above you can see (small) images of all ten new Bloomsbury Modern Classics covers. Below, I’ve included larger versions of my favourites, as well as information about the novels. Continue reading

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The Strand’s 2015 Reading Resolutions…

Strand-2015ReadingResolutionsMyke Cole tweeted a picture of a sign outside of New York’s magnificent Strand Bookstore (right), and it got me thinking: which books would I choose to meet these resolutions? Ordinarily, I find making resolutions of any kind a pointless task, as I will not stick to them (and likely not even try). But, the Strand’s list was interesting and so I thought I’d come up with some books that I could pick to follow them, should I wish to follow them. Which I still probably won’t. Here they are, in case the photo’s not clear enough:

  • Read a book that intimidates you
  • Read a book that is ~100 years old
  • Read a short story collection
  • Read a book before seeing the movie
  • Read a book you’ve lied about reading

The first is interesting. I’m rarely intimidated by a book, but I think I’d pick a massive novel and/or non-fiction title: so, maybe Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and/or Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker. I’ve started the latter, actually, and while it is excellent, its exhaustiveness is also a little exhausting in almost equal measures. Another novel could be James Clavell’s The Noble House: sequel to Tai-Pan which is one of the best books ever written (and easily one of my favourites, as well as the novel that got me reading properly). Not intimidating in terms of a single book, but maybe one of the epic Big Book fantasy series? Malazan Book of the Fallen, Stormlight Archive or Wheel of Time, perhaps? I’m interested in trying the first two, but to be honest not as interested as I am in reading many, many other series…

A book that is over 100 years old? Hm. I had thought of picking something by Virginia Woolf, but her most famous novels were all published less than 100 years ago — except, that is, for her debut, The Voyage Out (1915). I’d never heard of the novel, before looking up Woolf’s publication dates. It sounds kind of interesting, though:

The young Rachel Vinrance leaves England on her father’s ship, the Euphrosyne, on a voyage to South America. Despite being accompanied by her father and her aunt and uncle, Helen and Ridley Ambrose, the passage leads to Rachel’s awakening, both as a woman and as an individual. As the ship is wracked by storms, she finds herself romantically entangled with Richard Dalloway, an encounter that leaves her troubled and confused.

Upon arrival in Santa Marina, Rachel strikes off alone to contemplate her identity, and finds finds herself with the aspiring novelist Terence Hewet. As the emerging romance between the two is complicated by their disagreements about gender and art, another storm, and tragedy, appear on the horizon.

Other novels that could work: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), John Hay’s Democracy (1880)…

Reading story collections isn’t really something that I’m new to, but I do read fewer anthologies than I do novels and novellas. I’m rather tempted by Benjamin Percy’s The Language of Elk and Refresh Refresh, though, as I loved Red Moon [review], and am so very excited for The Dead Lands.

Read the book before I see the movie? I’d hoped this would be Joe Hill’s Horns, but Alyssa gave me the movie for Christmas, so I feel we will end up watching it before I can read the novel. I could cheat, and point to Michael Lewis’s Flash Boys, which is being adapted for screen by Aaron Sorkin? But yeah, that’s a real big cheat… Oh, maybe Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay? I’ve seen the first two movies, but never read the trilogy. I do have them already, too, so I don’t really have any excuse.

A book I’ve lied about reading…? I’ve never felt the need to lie about having read a book. If I haven’t read something, I don’t say I have, because that’s a) weird, and b) bound to lead to embarrassment. So I guess I get to skip this one. Or, I could change it to: “Read a book everyone else has read but you haven’t”? So I guess that would be most of the English Literature classics people were taught in class, but because my year was invariably an “experimental” one, we didn’t. There are so very many, so I won’t list them here. This one could double up with the over 100 years old resolution.

Which books would you pick, if you were following the Strand’s resolutions?

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While I’m at it, if you haven’t read Myke’s novels, then you really should: Control Point, Fortress Frontier and Breach Zone make up his debut trilogy, Shadow Ops. Later this year, Ace Books (US) and Headline (UK) are publishing a stand-alone prequel, Gemini Cell. Military fantasy at its best, well worth checking out.

Also on CR: Reviews of Control Point, Fortress Frontier, Breach Zone; Interview with Myke Cole (2011); Influence & Inspirations Guest Post

“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt (Vintage/Penguin)

TarttD-SecretHistoryI finally get around to reading the mega-hit novel of a mysterious group of college friends

Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning….

Another quick review, this (I’m still trying to figure out how best to review literary fiction). The Secret History has been an international mega-hit, and is frequently listed on Must Read books of the decade, your life, and so forth. As a result, it has been on my radar for years. But, because I am never lacking in reading material, I just never got around to buying it. After a particularly acute bout of book-restlessness, I decided it was time for a change from the SFF genres, and picked this up. I read it over a few very satisfying days, evenings and one night (I ended up finishing it at around 3am). It’s not perfect, but it is certainly engrossing and well-written.

The Secret History is a great novel, in many ways. It’s excellently written, and engagingly told. The characters are varied, quirky, and fun to read about (or, as is the case a coupleof times, uncomfortable to spend time with). This characterisation of college students is rather cliché, but I suppose it suits the story – I refer to the peripheral characters, here (drunks, drug-taking, not particularly bright or upstanding). The wild debauchery of Hampden College is merely a backdrop to the main attraction, despite them partaking in it as well. The focus of the novel are the five students in the exclusive Greek classes, and also our narrator, Richard.

There was something that didn’t ring true for me with this group, though: that everybody liked Bunny. Throughout the novel, he is an obnoxious, irritating presence, and I could never quite put my finger on why any of these characters professed to like him. Not a thing he did or said was redeeming or remotely attractive. It does, however, make it easier to believe how quickly our protagonists could turn on him (as we’re informed in the prologue). There were some affectations that didn’t ring true at all – although, because it was difficult to place the novel in a specific time/decade, I may have misunderstood the occasional thing.

The novel is pretty long, but it rarely felt like it was rambling or bloated. I appreciated Tartt’s attention to detail, and the way she realised the world and characters on the page. It is sometimes self-consciously intelligent and pretentious, but that can be forgiven, as it’s perhaps meant as a reflection of her characters (they are a group of young people who are oh-so-prone to affectations and pretentions). The narrative is sometimes disconnected, but always gripping. The final half of the novel, in particular, was riveting, and I stayed up well into the night to finish it off – thinking “one more chapter” at the end of each and every one.

This is a story of betrayal, loyalty and ultimate sacrifice. The way the characters must hide and tip-toe around what they have done, to hide it from their peers, the police and their mentor is plotted very well. Their tension and anxieties felt realistic and palpable. The ending was a tad melodramatic, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t have to end so. I can’t fault Tartt’s ‘world-building’, though.

I’m extremely glad I read this. It’s not the best novel I’ve ever read, but it has certainly added another author to my must-read list. As soon as I finished this, I bought the eBook of The Goldfinch, Tartt’s latest novel. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll have the time to read it, but I hope it is very soon.

Recommended.