Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson

April 25, 2014 Nelson Johnson, Non-Fiction 0

Boardwalk Empire by Nelson JohnsonTitle: Boardwalk Empire (Goodreads)
Author: Nelson Johnson
Published: Plexus Publishing, 2002
Pages: 312
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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Atlantic City has quite a history, from the rocky beginnings to its colourful characters like Louis “Commodore” Kuehnle and Enoch “Nucky” Johnson. Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson (subtitle: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City) tells the history of this US city. While this book inspired the current HBO series of the same name, this is not a reason to read this. The HBO show tells the story of a fictional character based on Nucky Johnson (called Nucky Thompson in the show). If you were to base a show on this non-fiction book it would turn out more like House of Cards.

There was a big chapter of Boardwalk Empire devoted to Nucky Johnson, who was an interesting guy. If you know the plot of the HBO series you might be aware of the type of character Nucky was, despite being only loosely based on him. His rise to power came thanks to the Volstead Act, but he wasn’t just a mob boss, he was a political powerhouse. Corruption never seemed so complex and scary; using the Republican Party to control the city all the while using extortion to fund the party. This technique helped control Atlantic City, keeping it corrupt well into the modern era.

While the history of Atlantic City is fascinating, it is sad to see just how big of an impact organised crime had on a growing city. I have an interest in the Volstead Act and how prohibition helped organised crime get a foothold in America. Boardwalk Empire shed some interesting insights into the cultural impact it had on a large scale.

I have started a new phase in my reading life where I’ve become very interested in non-fiction. While Boardwalk Empire wasn’t the greatest book, there was a lot to learn about politics and organised crime. This period of time interests me and I plan to read a whole lot more reading on the Volstead Act and organised crime, so I need recommendations. If you know good non-fiction books on these topics let me know.

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The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

April 24, 2014 Classic, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 0

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von GoetheTitle: The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goodreads)
Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1771
Pages: 160
Genre: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

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The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary novel that has influenced the Romantic Movement. Often known as the original ‘emo’, a term that I hate, this novel is a semi-autobiographical novel that brought huge success to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The novel is a collection of letters written by Werther to his friend Wilhelm. These letters are an intimate account of his attraction towards the beautiful Lotte; a young woman he meets in the village of Wahlheim. Despite knowing that she is already engaged to a man 11 years her senior, Werther falls for her and attempts to develop a friendship between the two in an effort to get closer to Lotte.

You can probably guess how this story goes; Werther, an artist of highly sensitive and passionate nature heading down a road that can only lead to heartbreak. I’m not one to enjoy a novel that revolves around a love triangle but when it is done properly it can be an effective plot device; I’m thinking of books like those mentioned in this post. There is no denying the cultural impact The Sorrows of Young Werther has had on the world; unfortunately the ‘Werther effect’ is the most common reference to the novel nowadays.

I’ll be honest, I wanted to read this novel because Frankenstein’s monster finds this book in a leather portmanteau along with Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost which gives you an interesting insight into Frankenstein. Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans is a series of biographies of famous men to illustrate their common moral virtues or failings, while Paradise Lost is an epic poem on creationism and the fall of man. The Sorrows of Young Werther embodies the Romantic ideals; Werther being a sensitive intellect with an obsession of nature and values emotion over reasoning. All three novels represent different themes that Shelley wants the reader to explore when reading Frankenstein.

While this may sound like a morbid and depressing novel, Goethe shows the beauty behind the tragedy. One thing I loved about this book is the wording, and permit me to post a few quotes from the book to just show you the beauty in the novel.

 “Sometimes I don’t understand how another can love her, is allowed to love her, since I love her so completely myself, so intensely, so fully, grasp nothing, know nothing, have nothing but her!” 

The major theme obviously is love; a look in how it can defy all logic. Werther can’t stop his heart from falling for Lotte, even if he knew it would lead to pain. The idea that the heart has more control over someone’s actions than their head is often evident in life and The Sorrows of Young Werther captures it perfectly. For me, that is what makes this novel spectacular and significant.

“I am proud of my heart alone, it is the sole source of everything, all our strength, happiness & misery. All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own” 

However, you can look at this novel as something other than love; the idea that Goethe is portraying the decline in Werther’s mental health is also a vital angle that needs to be considered. The reason I hate the term ‘emo’ I won’t go into at this time but Werther’s overly emotional journey could also be symptoms of a bi-polar depression, though not a known diagnosis of the time. We have to consider the idea that his joy and sorrow is not just unrequited love but a deeper issue. The love triangle would have added fuel to his depression and we cannot ignore that this could be the root cause of Werther’s sorrow.

For such a small novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther packs a huge punch. This is the type of book I can see myself reading again and again, not just because of the Romantic ideas but what it has to say about love and mental illness. I can’t help but think that The Sorrows of Young Werther is just a better version of The Catcher in the Rye, in the sense that is a journey of a self-absorbed protagonist, but maybe too difficult for high-school student. The Sorrows of Young Werther is an important book, not only did it influence the greatest literary movement we’ve seen but it still relevant today, almost 250 years later.

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My Plans for the 24 Hour Read-a-thon

April 23, 2014 Bloggers Event 8

The Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon is a mini reading challenge that happens twice a year in April and October. Traditionally I’m never prepared or often hear about a reading challenge like this too late. This time I made an effort to participate; I want to be more involved in the book blogging community. As this is my first 24 hour read-a-thon I’m not sure what to expect and how much I need to prepare. I may have gone overboard, but I’m planning on focusing on cleaning up my NetGalley list. I’m not going to get through all these ARCs but it would be good to clear of a few of these books. The read-a-thon starts at 11pm Saturday here in Australia, who what I’ll finish but here is a list of the books on my reading list in order of priority.

netgalley clean up
  1. Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh
  2. The Fever by Megan Abbott
  3. Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
  4. My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
  5. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
  6. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  7. Constance by Patrick McGrath
  8. Celebromancy by Michael R. Underwood

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Top Ten Tuesday: Great Femme Fatales

April 22, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 8

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Great femme fatales. I love a good femme fatale, they are mysterious, suductive and often deadly.

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  • Brigid O’Shaughnessy – The Maltese Falcon by Dashell Hammett (without spoiling the story, Brigid is the ultimate femme fatale)
  • Phyllis Nirdlinger – Double Indemnity by James M. Cain (like Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Phyllis embodies the perfect archetype of a femme fatale)
  • Cleopatra – Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare (Cleopatra is possibly one of the original femme fatales)
  • Dolores – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (while we may not want a 12 year old femme fatale. You can’t deny she doesn’t embody the characteristics of a femme fatale)
  • Vivian Sternwood – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (I can’t over look Chandler and Vivian is his best example of a femme fatale)

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  • Daisy Buchanan – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (no explanation needed)
  • Rebecca – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (just because she’s dead doesn’t stop Rebecca from being a great femme fatale)
  • Joan Medford – The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain (Cain is the king of the femme fatale and I struggled to only name one of his characters in this list)
  • Laurel Gray – In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (sassy, strong minded with a little mystery to her)
  • Veronica Mars – The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham (if you’ve seen the TV show you’ll know how great Veronica Mars is; part hard-boiled detective part femme fatale)

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

April 21, 2014 What are you Reading 6

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

The Temporary GentlemanThe Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry

A stunning return from the prize-winning and best-selling author of The Secret Scripture.

Jack McNulty is a ‘temporary gentleman’, an Irishman whose commission in the British army in the Second World War was never permanent. In 1957, sitting in his lodgings in Accra, he urgently sets out to write his story. He feels he cannot take one step further, or even hardly a breath, without looking back at all that has befallen him.

He is an ordinary man, both petty and heroic, but he has seen extraordinary things. He has worked and wandered around the world – as a soldier, an engineer, a UN observer – trying to follow his childhood ambition to better himself. And he has had a strange and tumultuous marriage. Mai Kirwan was a great beauty of Sligo in the 1920s, a vivid mind, but an elusive and mysterious figure too. Jack married her, and shared his life with her, but in time she slipped from his grasp.

A heart-breaking portrait of one man’s life – of his demons and his lost love - The Temporary Gentleman is, ultimately, a novel about Jack’s last bid for freedom, from the savage realities of the past and from himself.

17978193The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

Their average age was twenty-five. They came from Berkeley, Cambridge, Paris, London, Chicago—and arrived in New Mexico ready for adventure, or at least resigned to it. But hope quickly turned to hardship as they were forced to adapt to a rugged military town where everything was a secret, including what their husbands were doing at the lab. They lived in barely finished houses with a P.O. box for an address in a town wreathed with barbed wire, all for the benefit of a project that didn’t exist as far as the public knew. Though they were strangers, they joined together—adapting to a landscape as fierce as it was absorbing, full of the banalities of everyday life and the drama of scientific discovery. 

And while the bomb was being invented, babies were born, friendships were forged, children grew up, and Los Alamos gradually transformed from an abandoned school on a hill into a real community: one that was strained by the words they couldn’t say out loud, the letters they couldn’t send home, the freedom they didn’t have. But the end of the war would bring even bigger challenges to the people of Los Alamos, as the scientists and their families struggled with the burden of their contribution to the most destructive force in the history of mankind.

The Wives of Los Alamos is a novel that sheds light onto one of the strangest and most monumental research projects in modern history, and a testament to a remarkable group of women who carved out a life for themselves, in spite of the chaos of the war and the shroud of intense secrecy.

The Collected Works of A. J. FikryThe Collected Works of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin 

In the spirit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books-and booksellers-that changes our lives by giving us the stories that open our hearts and enlighten our minds. 

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

What Are You Reading?

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

April 20, 2014 Donna Tartt 8

The Goldfinch by Donna TarttTitle: The Goldfinch (Goodreads)
Author: Donna Tartt
Published: Little, Brown and Company, 2013
Pages: 771
Genre: Contemporary
My Copy: Personal Copy

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Carel Fabritius was a talented Dutch painter who was considered Rembrandt’s most gifted pupil. His paintings often featured delicately lit subjects against a light coloured background. He moved away from Rembrandt’s renaissance focus and developed his own painting style, with a strong interest in the technical. In 1654 he was injured in The Delft Explosion; 30 tonnes of gunpowder exploded destroying most of the city. Fabritius soon died from his injuries at the age of 32. Possibly one of the last paintings he ever painted, The Goldfinch depicts a goldfinch (a popular pet of the time) on light background. This piece shows his control over a heavily loaded brush as well as demonstrates his interest in lighting and texture.

Donna Tartt’s new novel The Goldfinch tells the story of Theo Decker, who survived a terrorist attack on a New York museum. Moments before the explosion his mother was pointing out Fadritius’ painting and telling Theo why she loved it; in all the confusion Theo manages to take the painting. Orphaned and alone, Theo struggles to find his place in this world while also trying to avoid being taken by the city.

While The Goldfinch is essentially a coming of age story, there are some interesting social observations being played out with the help of the stolen painting. On one hand, the painting represents Theo’s love for his mother and his need to hang on. I also feel that the painting represents that part that you keep hidden from the world; the secrets and shames that you tend to think will destroy friendships if revealed. This also serves a purpose when it comes to Theo’s friendship with Boris further in the novel.

While this is a novel about art and its seedy underbelly, I found myself a little disappointed in the lack of art history, art forging or art heists (technically there is a heist but that wasn’t thrilling). When I discovered my love of literature and learning, I also discovered an interest in art and art history, an itch that I’ve not scratched. I was hoping that Tartt’s novel would give me both entertainment and art history lessons but I was left disappointed. I expected Desperate Romantics but all I got was a bulky Catcher in the Rye.

I’m not saying that I didn’t like The Goldfinch, my expectations for the novel was different to what I got. Donna Tartt spends a lot of time looking at the idea of terrorist attacks and the lasting effects they have on the families of the victims and survivors. This grief serves as a baseline for Theo throughout the novel. Often it can be forgotten about but then you catch glimpses of the scars that remain and while they don’t justify his behaviour it really serve as evidence of the emotional rollercoaster he is stuck on. Tartt’s character development is the key to this book; she has created richly complex and flawed characters that feel so real. Theo, in particular, serves as both the narrator and protagonist; his voice throughout the novel manages to be both direct and reflective.

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is complex but over padded; there is a lot that could be cut out to make this a shorter book. I can appreciate the way she captured the life of Theo Decker; making this a sweeping saga, packed with emotion and growth, still would be achievable with a hundred or more pages removed. This is a tragicomedy in every sense of the word but my biggest problem was that there were some situations where things resolved themselves a little too conveniently; it happens but not that often.

 In the end, I found myself sitting on the fence with The Goldfinch. On one hand the characters and development of this novel was spectacular. The other hand is the fact my initial expectations weren’t met and the novel dragged on too much. I know that expectations should never get in the way of a good book and my head is telling me that I should jump on the bandwagon, however my heart just isn’t in it. I’ve heard good things about The Secret History but I have reservations about it now.

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Where is the Overall Story Arc in a Crime Series?

April 19, 2014 Literature 2

Veronica-Nancy-Drew

One thing that annoys me about reading a crime series is the lack of an overall story arc. I’m not saying that this is the case with all book series but it seems to be for the majority of them. Within crime fiction especially, the overall story arc is often very basic and often feels like a crime of the week format. This isn’t the case with romance, science fiction and fantasy they are more likely to have a continuous story line and have huge success with it.

When I read a series it is more than often a crime series and I wish the ‘new novel, new crime’ wasn’t the norm. When I watch TV, I often enjoy a series with an ongoing story; Veronica Mars is a prime example on television of what I want in a crime novel. A case that needs to be solved in every book but a bigger mystery that lasts over a couple of novels. Why can’t they do that in a novel series? I know a book is a bigger investment but I often read one book in a series and never continue because there is nothing to keep me reading.

The problem is that everything seems to be a series at the moment; I like the idea of returning to a great character but I need more. I like hard-boiled and noir crime novels but I find myself reading them less and less. I don’t want to read a series if there is nothing to keep me reading. A character has to be amazing to keep me reading, or they could just give me an unanswered mystery. Does anyone know of a good crime series that develops characters over a long period of time and also has an overall story arc?  Let me know. I wish I could write, I have been developing a concept in my head but I have no idea how to put it onto a page.

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Big Bad Wolf by Nele Neuhaus

April 17, 2014 Mystery, Neuhaus, Nele 0

Big Bad Wolf by Nele NeuhausTitle: Big Bad Wolf (Goodreads)
Author: Nele Neuhaus
Published: Pan Macmillan, 2014
Pages: 404
Genre: Mystery
My Copy: Library Book

Book Depository, (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

After finishing The New York Trilogy I needed something light, something I didn’t have to analyse. I picked up Big Bad Wolf because I enjoyed Snow White Must Die so much. I’m not saying that I can’t analyse a novel like this one (you can analyse every text), I just think at times some light reading is needed. Big Bad Wolf tells the story of a crime that happened on the river Main near Frankfurt. Investigators Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein are back to investigate the crime, as the case progresses they find it taking them into a pit of evil and cruelty in the midst of a middle class utopia.

I am trying to make an effort to read more translated fiction; I loved Snow White Must Die which is book four in the series but only the first one to be translated into English. This is book six in the same series and I have to wonder why a publisher would publish books in such a weird order; this was a similar issue that happened with Jo Nesbø. I understand that a publisher would want to translate the novels that will sell the best but if Nele Neuhaus’ popularity continues to grow at this rate we will have another Nesbø situation.

Everything I loved about Snow White Must Die is absent in Big Bad Wolf; I think the problem is that Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein are considered the main protagonists while Snow White Must Die focused more on the life of a man who served ten years for a crime he didn’t commit. That is what fascinated me but Big Bad Wolf is just another crime novel.

I’ve read so many great crime novels now that I find most of them clichéd and formulaic, Big Bad Wolf isn’t that bad but I’m looking for books that do something different and fresh with the genre. There are some decent moments in Big Bad Wolf, some unexpected twists but I wanted more. The novel is darker than most popular crime novels but keeps to the standard formula. One thing I did find difficult about this novel was the amount of view points, making it difficult at times to understand what was going on but this is an acceptable method for building suspense.

I highly recommend Snow White Must Die, if you haven’t tried some German translated crime before then this might be a good starting point. As for Big Bad Wolf, I’m disappointed with the end result but others might enjoy it more than I do. I hope Nele Neuhaus’ other novels are more like Snow White Must Die but I won’t be in a hurry to try her works again.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Love Triangles

April 15, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 9

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Bookish Things (That Aren’t Books), which I’m not going to do. Instead I’m going to high-jack this week’s Top Ten Tuesday and give you a list of novels with a decent love triangle within them.

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  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy — Alyosha Vronsky, Alexei and Anna Karenin
  • Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton — Zeena, Ethan, and Mattie
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov — Clare, Dolores, and Humbert Humbert
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro — Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood — Oryx, Crake, and Snowman

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  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen — Wickham (or Mr Collins), Mr Darcy, and Elizabeth Bennet
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — Tom, Daisy, and Jay Gatsby
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides — Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell
  • The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — Albert, Lotte, and Werther
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte — Linton, Catherine, and Heathcliff

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

April 14, 2014 What are you Reading 4

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

RansomRansom by David Malouf

A reimagination of one of the most famous stories in all of literature-Achilles’s slaughter and desecration of Hector, and Priam’s attempt to ransom his son’s body in Homer’s The IliadRansom is the first novel in more than a decade from David Malouf, arguably Australia’s greatest living writer.

A novel of suffering, sorrow, and redemption, Ransom tells the story of the relationship between two grieving men at war: fierce Achilles, who has lost his beloved Patroclus in the siege of Troy; and Priam, king of Troy, whose son Hector killed Patroclus and was in turn savaged by Achilles. Each man’s grief demands a confrontation with the other’s if it is to be resolved: a resolution more compelling to both than the demands of war. And when the aged father and the murderer of his son meet, “the past and present blend, enemies exchange places, hatred turns to understanding, youth pities age mourning youth.” (The Australian)

Ransom is a tour de force, incandescent in its delicate and powerful lyricism and in its unstated imperative to imagine our lives in light of fellow feeling.

Young RomanticsYoung Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay

Young Romantics tells the story of the interlinked lives of the young English Romantic poets from an entirely fresh perspective–celebrating their extreme youth and outsize yearning for friendship as well as their individuality and political radicalism. The book focuses on the network of writers and readers who gathered around Percy Bysshe Shelley and the campaigning journalist Leigh Hunt. They included Lord Byron, John Keats, and Mary Shelley, as well as a host of fascinating lesser-known figures: Mary Shelley’s stepsister and Byron’s mistress, Claire Clairmont; Hunt’s botanist sister-in-law, Elizabeth Kent; the musician Vincent Novello; the painters Benjamin Haydon and Joseph Severn; and writers such as Charles and Mary Lamb, Thomas Love Peacock, and William Hazlitt. They were characterized by talent, idealism, and youthful ardor, and these qualities shaped and informed their politically oppositional stances. “In firm, clear, often elegant prose, [Daisy Hay] narrates the main events in the lives of her subjects from 1813, when they began to coalesce around Hunt in London, till 1822″ (Ben Downing, “The New York Times Book Review”).

Young Romantics is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and friendship played out against a backdrop of political turbulence and intense literary creativity. “Hay’s account of the passionate and messy lives of her Romantics is vivid, picturesque, and finely told” (Richard Eder, “The Boston Globe”)

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

What Are You Reading?

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