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Favourite Book Covers

It struck me last week as I was writing out the first lines post that I’ve never really looked at favourite book covers.

I have always been enticed by nice covers, though perhaps more so since I started reading ebooks and particularly now during isolation where I’m reading them almost entirely.

Most often I will be struck by the combination of a nice cover and a hardback book. Hardbacks tend to have more than their fair share of nice covers; when publishers switch covers for the paperback I find the new one is often not as appealing. Hardback jackets also seem to lend themselves better to embossing, gold paint, and better colour pigmentation. The bigger size of the book also gives it more grandeur.

This is to say that I’m not entirely sure I could make a decision on favourites without that context. Even looking at the covers online, without the physical nature of the hardback, it’s difficult to get away from the way they look in person. So I won’t try – the covers below are sometimes going to be influenced by the fact of the hardback.

I’m leaving out all books that are in the public domain where the ideas of the author and original designers are long gone, and I’m keeping it to one book per author. I’m also keeping it to books I’ve read. I’ve put title tags on all these as the covers are small – hover over them if you’d like the details.

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Due to there being so many – and this is inevitably the shortened list – I’ll leave out any navel-gazing. I think it’s safe to say I love bright colours, multicolours, and images where one person stands in front of something, a future or situation being the subtext. (I’ve always though the latter is probably the reason for those covers – they make you want to find out more.) I like YA fantasy/magical realism/paranormal covers. And I rather love both covers that were created for One Night, Markovitch enough that whilst the reason I wanted to buy the book was the cover I’d seen, I still bought it when I found a copy with the new cover. Likewise The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake – I loved the title and the hardback cover but I guess the title drew me more as I read the paperback version seen above.

Which covers of books you’ve read are your favourites?

 
Analyses Of First Lines #9

I’ll start off by saying that this post being very literally blue is something I did not plan; I discovered it once all the images had been added and decided to keep it as is. Whenever I choose books (or, it could rightly be said, lines) for this post, I’m thinking in terms of text, but I quite like the matching palettes and might have to consider the affect again if and when (more likely ‘when’) I get into a muddle choosing future books.

This post is effectively brought to you thanks to Roselle Lim – Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop was published a few weeks ago and the first line from it was what gave me the idea to create another of these posts. I read the first line, deemed it perfect, and must admit I put the book down after that so that I could ponder the line for a few minutes.

I have been reading more closely more recently, if that makes sense and isn’t too clumsy in terms of phrasing. I noticed when reading Midge Raymond’s My Last Continent that I was seeing so much more in it than I had previously, I wondered if my review should still stand. It ought to, of course, but maybe there is a place for updates when you’re dealing with something like reading, something where a person’s experience will keep growing and improving. I might have to write a post about this…

Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop (2020)

I predicted the future on my third birthday.

Book cover

So, then, the line that spawned this post. It doesn’t tell you anything about who you’re hearing about or what the story is about, except that it does. Title and any context aside – because ‘magical’ lends itself to the idea that predicting the future is par for the cause, and the cover suggests a happy book with happy likeable people – you might wonder about this character. They predicted the future… they could simply be musing, they could be suggesting that they’re intelligent, or, perhaps, they could even be a bit arrogant.

But given the second part of the sentence, that ‘third birthday’, it’s safe to say it’s likely they’re musing and that there is some intelligence there. A three-year-old predicting the future is, to my knowledge (but am I in a position to muse or be intelligent?), pretty rare. But we can’t say that for definite.

Apart from this, what do we learn? We learn that there could be a supernatural element to it, a three-year-old predicting the future. (I mean that in the literal sense – perhaps a child standing up at a family gathering and holding court.) The supernatural could instead be family members aiding the child – passing them a crystal for dousing and watching what happens, for example. Given ‘the future’ is there right near the start, here in this first line, we can ascertain that the story following this, or at least part of the story, will detail that future, which is interesting when you consider we haven’t heard about the past or present yet. (We’ll inevitably get to the past and present but I wonder if we ought to consider this a bold move, talking about the future when you’re just being introduced, though that does of course depend on what sort of future we’re talking about. I’ll leave that there – I think it’s pretty awesome regardless.) Lastly, we inevitably learn that, at least to some extent, this person has been waiting for this future in a way people generally don’t.

Who is this person? We’ve no idea really, but would it be fair to say we now definitely want to find out?

Christina Courtney’s Echoes Of The Runes (2020)

On the outermost tip of the peninsula, she waited and watched through the lonely hours of dawn, scanning the water as far as the eye could see for a glimpse of the familiar snake’s-head carving at the prow of his ship.

Book cover

With this line we could be anywhere… and then. Right up until those eight last words you could say it’s impossible to guess where and when this book is set. Where the book is set is still difficult, but with the snake’s head at the prow, this has got to be historical, in a time before modern boats, unless we look at the possibility that someone has recreated an old-fashioned boat, and I’m not going to go there with that because we could be here forever.

I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing 1500s, possibly 1600s, as the latest date for this ship. This character is ‘scanning the water as far as the eye could see’ – that could really be any time, as could the rest of it.

I like that you’ve no sense of time period until the end – at first I wondered what I might be able to say about it, but that ending is great – and I like that people who know more about ships might have a good insight as to the time period (and possibly location) by way of the snake’s head carving. The one thing I would venture to assume is that, as it’s a snake’s head, the man the character is waiting for might be a villain or in a position of power.

Peter Ho Davies’ The Fortunes (2016)

It was like riding in a treasure chest, Ling thought.

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First off, I must note that the above is the first line of the first of four semi-connected long-form stories – The Fortunes is effectively four novellas all on a similar (edging towards the same) theme as each other, not quite a fractured narrative, but running parallel to the idea.

Before this line comes two lines from American Titan by K Clifford Stanton about a man considering his Chinese ‘houseboy’. I checked both Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg as well as Google for this and cannot find any reference (I’m writing this after having recorded the podcast episode with Peter) so I can’t say for certain whether or not it’s factual versus from a novel, but let’s assume it’s non-fiction or a very fact-based fiction – as much as the Ling from The Fortunes is Ho Davies’, he’s Clifford Stanton’s.

It’s technically strange to look at it out of context but let’s do it: do we know where Ling is – no, we don’t, and if we remove the context of the included extract from Clifford Stanton, we don’t know when he is, either. But something significant has or is happening, whether a permanent life change or a simple moment, we don’t know. As a metaphor, a treasure chest strongly suggests extreme wealth, money. ‘Riding’ – a gold carriage, perhaps. The significance is the key here – Ling has not had this sort of experience before, and he has likely come from a very different background.

Midge Raymond’s My Last Continent (2016)

As I lead tourists from the Zodiacs up rocky trails to the penguin colonies, I notice how these visitors – stuffed into oversize, puffy red parkas – walk like the penguins themselves: eyes to the snowy ground, arms out for balance.

Book cover

This line doesn’t tell you exactly where, but you’ve a very good sense – penguins; parkas needed; even the penguins’ requirement for arms to be out for balance. Tourists, visitors – but this isn’t the zoo. Then add in the Zodiacs, which are inflatable boats – we’re by or in water.

There’s a lot to this sentence and in fact it sets you up with the themes and literary content rather than the character’s particular story, which is quite nice, though some of this is more vague in the sentence than the rest, for example, what are these people, these tourists doing here? And there’s a lot of different punctuation – is it too much, is it just right? It does keep you going and on track; it’s safe to say the amount of content in the sentence gives you a good idea for the location and general atmosphere, the social side of it, too. There’s also the alliteration, which suggests the weather is colder here, for the parkas to be ‘puffed’ rather than, simply, ‘parkas’, and the use of comparisons between humans and penguins.

Tracy Rees’ Darling Blue (2018)

All through that shimmering riverside summer of 1925 there seemed to be only one question on everyone’s lips: who was Blue Camberwell going to marry?

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Dare I say ‘boom – done’? This sentence tells you what is going to happen, and what you can expect, at least to some extent – how much depends on whether this Blue is the main character or one of many. Or perhaps those others, ‘everyone’, else is where our character(s) can be found, if you’ll pardon the poor grammar. Where – riverside; when – summer 1925 (hello Gatsby and co?); who – Blue. The ‘how’ is less definite, but we can speculate that it’s got something to do with dating.

Like Raymond above, Rees’ first line features alliteration that has a different first lettered word in between; in this case the ‘shimmering summer’ – as it’s 1925 it’s hard not to imagine glittering parties, glamour; certainly ‘shimmering’, whilst paired with ‘summer’ and ‘riverside’ speaks more to the era in general, even if it truly is about the water.

It’s interesting that the line ends on who Blue is going to marry; before we’ve even met Blue we’re told she’s important, very much so – ‘everybody’s lips’ surely points to the wider community than the family.

Conclusion

As I started working my way through these I found myself wanting to look at them more casually, in a bit more depth even if it meant more musing. But I also found myself comparing the lines to each other – they aren’t comparable, really, except in a literary sense. It is interesting to look at the metaphors and alliteration, especially, here, the alliteration, and how different authors use these aspects of language to get the sentence where they want it to be, where they want it to end up.

And I found myself wanting to read them out loud. I didn’t – I might have got some funny looks from two furry ones – but saying it in my head made for an interesting result. The words sounded great – I’ve always loved alliteration – but there’s an effect of reading them that I suppose can be likened to spoken poetry; you can appreciate the sounds and the meanings and it’s the meanings that become most apparent when spoken. Of course breaking the sentences into pieces always helps, but the sounding of it was new to me in the context of fiction, away from the idea of reading aloud in itself. I think I’ll have to explore it more.

What is the first line of the book you are reading at the moment?

 
Tracy Rees – Florence Grace + Podcast

Book Cover

We’re all a bit Dickens here.

Publisher: Quercus
Pages: 540
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-784-29617-9
First Published: 30th June 2016
Date Reviewed: 2020
Rating: 5/5

Young Florrie Buckley is employed for an evening to serve at a ball. Whilst there, she catches the eye of a boy around her age and gets him to hide with her; they converse – he’s rich, and, as she comes to find out, a member of the somewhat bizarre Grace family. Florrie returns home but it isn’t long before she is called to join the Graces at their home – she finds out that her mother, who passed away years before, was a member of the family, cast out for marrying a man far below her class. Florrie is compelled to leave everything she knows and join a group of people both revered and thought gauche – the clan want her back.

Florence Grace, Rees’ second novel, is a very enjoyable rags-to-riches-and-perhaps-someone-else tale (I don’t want to spoil it too much) involving a practically Dickensian family and a lot of information on the average person in the Victorian period. Set in the same century as Amy Snow, Florence Grace is nevertheless wholly different from that debut whilst providing the same general reading experience.

There is so much to like about the book – the details of the different ways of living, the difference between classes, society as a whole, childhood; in a way the book is much more about character and place than it is about plot yet the plot emphatically keeps you reading. It’s told in the first person – unsurprisingly Florrie’s point of view – yet it feels like a grand saga. Much like Amy’s story, Florence Grace owes a lot to the classics, though here it’s more about the feel than the voice, and it’s much more Emily than Charlotte.

As a group, the family make for essential reading – you’ll be glad that they are fictional, particularly as the book continues. There are many different sorts amongst them, and Florrie, with her extreme differences, rounds it off really well. Florrie herself remains compelling throughout, a person who is inevitably very worldly wise by the end. The element in her story of homecoming, of finding herself and pushing through, is ever-present. The backdrop of the Cornish moors, described beautifully, is almost a character in itself, and lends itself to a very slight thread of magical realism; this is, of course, where Emily Brontë’s story comes into play.

Unlike that haunting book, however, Florrie’s is a lot more positive. There’s a lot of heartache and hurt but her strength pushes her on. And the ending, which you start to get an idea of as it nears, is both very fitting and somewhat, still, surprising.

This is a long book but it’s worth every page. There is always something going on, always a change of scenery, and the attention to detail in all cases is fantastic. If you’re looking for an epic that sets reality up together with a hint of fantasy, a classic in our present day, this is a brilliant candidate.


Today’s podcast episode is with Peter Ho Davies (The Ugliest House In The World; Equal Love; The Welsh Girl; The Fortunes). Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

We discuss moving as a writer from Britain to the US, Welsh with English as a second language, the first Chinese Americans, Hollywood star Anna May Wong, and the impact – then and now – of the murder of Vincent Chin.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.

 
July 2020 Reading Round Up, Pausing Wednesday Posts + Podcast

The start of August got a bit lost, another trip to the vet and stress-related illness for the humans, this time due to rabbit escape artist antics; I’m slowly getting back on track. Reading in July was all for the podcasts; Tracy Rees’ backlist in particular is quite substantial when it comes to page count per book. I’m listing these books by author, and publication date.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Sofie Laguna: One Foot Wrong – A young girl lives in her parents’ home all the time, isolated; her friends are common household items and her parents are not good to her and as she gets older things do not improve. This is a very difficult book to read in the sense that it’s about horrific abuse but the telling of it is incredible.

Sofie Laguna: The Eye Of The Sheep – Jimmy sees things differently to other people though he doesn’t quite know it, but he does know about the tentacles in his mother’s chest that cause her problems, sees his dad struggle, and often can’t help himself from running around for ages; the family situation as it is is not sustainable and we see the changes through Jimmy’s eyes. A fantastic book about a child who defies a label, and his very normal, everyday family, living in the 70s and 80s.

Sofie Laguna: The Choke – A young girl from a bad background struggles to live her life despite her inability to understand what’s going on around her. A brilliant look at the cycle of abuse.

Tracy Rees: Amy Snow – Upon the death of her friend/mistress, a young woman sets out to discover what happened when said friend left home for a longer period than expected. Very good book, totally set in its Victorian period.

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Tracy Rees: Florence Grace – A young girl living in relative poverty in the Victorian period is employed for an evening as a servant for a party, and she meets a boy with the surname Grace – who isn’t going to be her husband. I don’t want to spoil the story so I’ll leave it there; this is as enjoyable as Amy Snow but pretty different and more Dickensian and Emily Brontë than Amy Snow’s Austen and Charlotte Brontë.

Tracy Rees: The Hourglass – Nora quits her well-paid but mundane job when she keeps seeing a beach in her mind’s eye, a beach she knows; meanwhile Chloe is growing up in the 1950s, visiting Tenby in Wales on her summer holidays and looking forward to growing up, perhaps too much. Again, I’m trying not to spoil the story – this is a fantastic dual-plot novel, perfect for summer days.

Tracy Rees: Darling Blue – 1920s – Blue’s father, drunk at her party, declares that whomever can win her love via letter will be given her hand in marriage, which doesn’t go down well with her; meanwhile working-class Delphine runs away from her husband but falls asleep on the train and wakes up further down the line, in Richmond where Blue’s family lives. An interesting look at the ’20s, this book incorporates both fantastical and fun ideas, and sobering social factors (the issues for women when men returned to the workplace post-war).

Tracy Rees: The House At Silvermoor – 1890s – Tommy is growing up to be a miner but hopes for more, and during this time he meets Justine who lives in the next town; they become friends and Tommy shares his dreams but might it be that Justine, with her striking hair that looks more akin to that of the owner’s niece, has more of a chance? A light fantasy/fairy tale set in the industrial period.

So far in August I’ve read Peter Ho Davies’ longer works and I’ve started Midge Raymond’s My Last Continent which I first read a few years ago. I’ve got a couple of other books ready to start, and in one case, continue, after that.

On the subject of Wednesday posts, I have decided to press pause on them for now and move to a twice weekly posting schedule of Monday and Friday whilst this pandemic is ongoing. I’m finding it difficult to keep up with everything at the moment and have to pull back a bit, give myself a bit more space in between. I don’t intend it to be permanent – my plan is to reinstate it once there’s a vaccine and that constant background stress we’re all feeling dissipates. This should make my posting more routine again; overwhelm of things to do has affected it a lot.


The latest podcast episode is with Tracy Rees. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Tracy Rees (Amy Snow; Florence Grace; The Hourglass; Darling Blue; The House At Silvermoor) discuss Richard, Judy, Dickens, Austen, and Brontë – not all at once – coffee houses in Victorian times, landslides and hourglasses, changes to the Yorkshire mines in the late 1800s to early 1900s, and the inclusion of the average person in historical fiction.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.

 
Reading Life: 27th July 2020 + Podcast

A photograph of a stalked flower bed at Hever Castle

Reading is going well at the moment; I’m aiming to have a good few books finished by this month, to try and get back to that ‘lots of books in July’… thing I used to have going on. And it’s thanks to some really excellent novels.

Inevitably I’m reading for interview; I’ve read and re-read both Sofie Laguna’s and Tracy Rees’ backlist (in the latter case it’s the present tense re-reading) and it’s been a ball. Laguna’s work is brilliant but difficult at times, in terms of the content. Her three current books (one more on the way in October) all look at formative childhood years and positives and negatives of those times; most cases include some level of abuse and neglect in a very caring way and the children are the narrators which allows for what is a balance of informed and uninformed look at what’s happening. Laguna has a superb talent for characterisation and realistic characters and she also looks at various learning difficulties and disabilities.

Tracy Rees’ books are far from Laguna’s in terms of genre, historical fiction with a tiny bit of contemporary plot thread – I say tiny bit because it’s a part of one book. I’m guessing most of you who read this will have heard of her and a good number of you will have read her books, they are often tomes, very high on the bestseller lists and with good reason. I’m currently reading her fourth book, which is very different to the rest of them. The first and second books, Amy Snow and Florence Grace, are set in the 1800s, and as noted in my review, the third, The Hourglass, is set in the 1950s and present day. However, despite the big differences in time it’s actually the fourth book, Darling Blue, set in the 1920s, that breaks the mould. The characterisation differs, the narrative structure looks at more people, and the storytelling, too, is new. I quite like it – I absolutely loved the first three books but the difference in Darling Blue is like reading a book by a different author and I rather like it when that happens without the book foregoing anything in particular.

I’m getting a lot out of the historical content; one of the things I love about Amy Snow is the detailing of what the average person’s day might be like, those people who are perhaps most like ourselves today; working in what we’d now call retail, visiting pubs and coffee shops. There’s only one scene in a coffee shop and only a very brief scene in a bookshop but when then added to Florence Grace’s visit to a cheese shop (Rees’ second book) it adds up to some interesting context. To be sure, there’s a lot of this kind of stuff in TV shows and films, but in a book, where everything’s slower and there’s more detail to help you imagine what the places look like, it’s just… better.

On my list to read next are Orlando Ortega-Medina’s The Savior Of Sixth Street and Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop, both out in August. It’s going to be another diversion in genre, two in fact as they will be very different, and I love that idea. I know the basics of both of them but am otherwise keeping away from information. I’m also hoping to return to Christina Courtney’s Echoes Of The Runes which I started at the very beginning of June and had to leave for a while; it’s a time-slip set, so far, in Britain and Sweden, and involves a present-day character who finds an exact match for the ring she always wears in a museum display cabinet for early history; in short, it’s right up my street.


Today’s podcast is with Sofie Laguna. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Sofie Laguna (One Foot Wrong; The Eye of the Sheep; The Choke; the forthcoming Infinite Splendours) discuss beginning with acting, writing from a child’s perspective and not labelling those who are different, bad fictional parents, not liking John Wayne… and we have the inaugural reading of Sofie’s October release.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.

 

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