Secret societies, Twitter terrorists and the summer of 1927

>> Monday, July 30, 2018

Not blogging for such a long time has meant a big backlog of books that I haven't reviewed (I was still reading, just not reviewing!). Many are books that are just ok, where there isn't a lot to say and I'd struggle to do a proper review that wouldn't put people to sleep. But there are also many that I really liked and would love to do a proper review of, but that's just not going to happen for all of them. So while I'll still be doing full-length reviews, particularly of recent reads, you'll be seeing a lot more of these mop-up-type posts in the next few weeks.

TITLE: The Secret History
AUTHOR: Donna Tartt

Richard Papen is a very bright working-class young man who gets accepted to a small private college in New England. Keen to leave his unromantic roots behind, he falls in with a group of privileged and elitist students. We know from the start (like, from page 1) that at some point they will kill one of their number, but we don't know how and why. The book tells the story of how they get to that point, and of what happens next.

I suppose you could describe this about being about entitled, snobbish rich kids living in their own little world, laughing at people who don't have the same privileges and being completely wastes of space, for all that they're objectively clever. And that's actually a fair description. I still found this utterly gripping and basically inhaled this quite massive (650 pages!) story. I cared about every single one of those rotten little shits and found the depiction of their friendship fascinating. I cared about their fates. I loved the setting (the 80s feel so long ago!) and was extremely intrigued by the 'mystery' plot, which is not so much a mystery plot as a plot engine that lets Tartt explore the relationships. The ending is not quite as brilliant as the rest of the book, but on the whole, this was really enjoyable.

By the way, I listened to the audiobook, which, interestingly, was narrated by Tartt herself. Now, she's clearly not a professional audio narrator, and at the beginning I wasn't sure her narration worked, but she grew on me. Her quite idiosyncratic way of speaking ended up suiting the story quite perfectly.


TITLE: About That Night
AUTHOR: Julie James

This is the Twitter Terrorist book :) Kyle Rhodes is a very privileged young man who did something stupid (brought down Twitter in a bit of a drunken tantrum) and got sent to jail, as the authorities decided to make an example of him. Rylan Pierce is an Assistant US Attorney. These two had met before and made an impression on each other, and now they meet again when Kyle becomes a witness in a murder investigation Rylan is involved in.

This was classic Julie James in that it was fun and uncomplicated, with a super competent and sympathetic heroine I was a bit in awe of, and a nice hero who was quite chilled out and easygoing. But it was not classic Julie James in that her books are usually a bit more memorable. This was one I really enjoyed while I was reading it, but proceeded to forget as soon as I finished it. I think it was that the romance was pretty unexciting. There didn't seem to be any conflict or any growing for either to do. A good way to pass the time (I read it in a couple of sittings), but nothing that lingered.


TITLE: One Summer: America, 1927
AUTHOR: Bill Bryson

In One Summer, Bill Bryson travels back to the US in 1927 and explores that world. His thesis seems to be that this is the point when the US started its path to superpowerdom, and that what was going on at the time provides a lot of insight into what that path would be like.

There are gangsters, baseball players, movie stars actually speaking on-screen, floods, the start of television, and most of all, pilots. The summer of 1927 was when Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. This makes up a big chunk of the focus of the book, and strands related to that event pop up even when Bryson is exploring other stories.

One Summer was great fun to read. I'm not sure the unifying theme worked that well, but I didn't even mind that it felt more like a collection of interesting things related to 1927. I just love Bryson's voice (Road to Little Dribbling notwithstanding -let's just hope that one was an aberration), and when he's at the top of his game, I'm happy to listen to him going on about pretty much anything. Well, he is at the top of his game here and the topics are fascinating, so even better.



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