Friday Fun: Chateaux with Vineyards

My lifelong dream was to own a chateau with a magnificent view and a vineyard, where I could write (of course) but also run my training courses and serve my wine to a captive audience. Here are some chateaux which come close to my high demands.

Chateau Allaman in Canton Vaud, from
Chateau Allaman in Canton Vaud, from
Chateau Barbeyrolles, near Saint Tropez. From
Chateau Barbeyrolles, near Saint Tropez. From
Chateau Bizanos in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques, from
Chateau Bizanos in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques, from
Chateau de la Mission, Haut-Brion, from
Chateau de la Mission, Haut-Brion, from
Chateau Lonay near Lausanne, from
Chateau Lonay near Lausanne, from
Chateau Maison Blanche, from
Chateau Maison Blanche, from

A few beehives would also not come amiss! Where did you dream of living when you were a child?

Home-Grown Crime Fiction


Some quick reads well within my comfort zone this past week.

Denise Mina: Gods and Beasts

In the run-up to Christmas, an elderly man and his grandson are queuing at the post-office in Glasgow, when a gunman bursts in and empties the cash register. The elderly man appears to be helping the gunman and gets shot dead for his pains. But what possible connection can a solid pillar of society have with a criminal and why would he hand his grandson over to a weird-looking stranger in the queue? This is not the only investigation that Alex Morrow has to solve: dodgy politicians and criminal gangs, her own brother with his shady dealings, and corruption within her own department make her wonder if there is any part of Glasgow society that she can trust.

Mina can certainly write: she conveys character with just a few traits of the pen and speech patterns. While this story doesn’t quite reach the emotional depth of the Garnethill or Paddy Meehan trilogies, it’s a great read, with an undercurrent of despair. The corruption of politicians and ongoing criminality of Glasgow are ever-present, but there are some characters that you feel hopeful about, some that you hope will be able to create a new life for themselves.

withouttraceSimon Booker: Without Trace

Booker is a TV scriptwriter, and there is an urgent pace and compulsive storytelling quality to his book which proves that. This is less noir than Mina’s work, more of a ‘read all night’ thriller.

Single mother and journalist Morgan Vine has campaigned for more than four years for the release of her childhood sweetheart Danny Kilcannon from prison. She does not believe he killed his wife and stepdaughter, and when a key witness recants his statement, Danny is freed. But then Morgan’s own teenage daughter goes missing and she no longer knows what to believe.

I couldn’t stop reading this, as I too started to doubt and suspect everybody and everything, just like Morgan. Cleverly constructed and full of suspense, with plenty of dodgy characters and grudges, it is a twisty rollercoaster of a book. My one gripe would be that some of the characters are perhaps a bit sketchy or clichéd and the ending felt a trifle over-elaborate and long.

bloodwilltellJeanne M. Dams: Blood Will Tell

Not strictly speaking ‘home-grown’, since the author is American, as is her amateur investigator Dorothy Martin, but Dorothy is married to a retired British chief constable and they are visiting Cambridge, so it will pass muster for now. Except that it really is the vision of olde worlde England and traditional college life that Americans want to see, as the recent success of Downton Abbey has proved.

What I did like was that Dorothy and her husband are in their 70s, happily retired but still keeping themselves very active mentally, although they do complain about their knees and joints and bruises. There aren’t many books featuring elderly investigators out there, so this one has to be praised for that fact alone. The storyline, however, was too cosy and twee, too slow and ponderous for my taste. A bloodstain on the floor leads to all sort of speculations, most of them wrong – it just didn’t arouse my curiosity enough.


Happy Year of the Fire Monkey

I am a Monkey in the Chinese horoscope and very pleased to be one, although I recognise some of the less desirable traits all too well (low boredom threshold, need constant stimulation, can be lazy and too clever for their own good). However, the year of the Fire Monkey can be surprising, full of conflicts and uncertainty, but also full of new beginnings. The last one was in 1956 – and what a year that was!

For dVerse this time we are looking at fortune cookies (which are not even Chinese) and the enigmatic little messages they contain. My ‘fortune’ is: ‘Your shoes will make you happy today’.


My shoes make me happy every day.
They fit when clothes have seized up and burst.
They snug my toes in wrapped warm delight.
They point accusing in red-tempered glare.

My shoes were once my masters.
I hobbled with calloused vanity
on wobbly stilettos or platforms of skyscraper height.

Now I am myself
and my shoes punctuation,
underlining the essence of moods every day.


Three Little-Known Local Celebrities


Olympe de Gouges was a playwright, political activist, salon intellectual and advocate of human rights. An early abolitionist and feminist, she was initially a keen supporter of the French Revolution, but became disenchanted with the lack of equality extended to women and the more extremist elements such as the Jacobins. As the Revolution progressed, she became more and more vehement in her writings. The Jacobins arrested her allies, the Girondins, imprisoned them, and sent them to the guillotine in October, while her poster Les trois urnes led to her arrest. That piece demanded a plebiscite for a choice among three potential forms of government: unitary republic, federalist government, or constitutional monarchy. She was executed in 1793 for seditious behaviour.


Nicolas Condorcet was a French philosopher, mathematician, and early political scientist whose Condorcet method in voting tally selects the candidate who would beat each of the other candidates in a run-off election. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he advocated a liberal economy, free and equal public instruction, constitutionalism, and equal rights for women and people of all races. His ideas and writings were said to embody the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment and rationalism, and remain influential to this day. He died a mysterious death in prison in 1794 after a period of flight from French Revolutionary authorities.  Some historians believe that he may have been murdered (perhaps because he was too loved and respected to be executed) or else committed suicide.


Gustave Moynier was a Swiss lawyer and co-founder and longest-serving President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, very active in charitable work during his long life (1826-1910). Differences between pragmatical Moynier and idealistic Dunant developed early over the reach of the organization’s authority and its legal and organizational formation. The key point of dispute was Dunant’s idea to grant neutrality to wounded soldiers and medical staff in order to protect them. Moynier was a determined opponent of this plan, which he did not consider realistic and thought its insistence risked the collapse of the project. He managed to oust Dunant from the organisation and possibly used his influence to make sure that Dunant would not receive any financial assistance from elsewhere when the latter went bankrupt. Moynier was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times, but, unlike Dunant, who was its first recipient in 1901, he never received it. Nor were the two of them ever reconciled.

While the first two are not strictly speaking ‘local’, the buildings at my older son’s schools are named after them, which sparked my curiosity to do a little research on them. They seem to have been strongly influenced by Voltaire, who was a local for over 20 years. Moynier did live in Geneva and even has a manor-house just over the border in France. One of those houses that I regularly drool over…


Misfits, Taggers and Horror Builds Up

This grouping of reviews will puzzle you, perhaps, but the three books provoked a similar reaction in me, albeit with different degrees of discomfort. They are all about misfits, and give a rather brutal picture of Scandinavian societies, which to many of us seem a haven of egalitarianism and tolerance.

somerainKarl Ove Knausgaard: Some Rain Must Fall (My Struggle 5), transl. Don Bartlett

I admit I’m a bit addicted to the long, rambling, self-absorbed outpourings of Knausgaard. It’s a little like reading all your unedited jumble of thoughts (somewhat better expressed). The author is so hard on himself (or on his younger self, which I still believe is a bit of an alter ego rather than his real self), particularly in this volume. Karl Ove is now 19 and has followed his big brother to Bergen, where he will attend the writing academy. He stays in Bergen for fourteen years, during which he feels he is not making any progress as a human being or as a writer, despite his utmost efforts. He has no one but himself to blame: he is constantly sabotaged by his own ego, envy of others, awkwardness, drinking and lust. He feels hurt when others criticise his writing efforts, plagiarises someone’s work, gets drunk and violent, is a lousy boyfriend, tries to be part of a band although he can barely play the drums, doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. This is such a powerful, unvarnished portrait of a young man trying to rise above the average but fearing that there may not be anything of substance within him.

Yes, all the usual criticism of Knausgaard applies: it is overlong, it goes off on tangents all the time, it feels unfiltered like life itself, but it is eminently entertaining and readable. Disquieting? Yes, especially when I read the book below straight after. Unfair to compare Karl Ove with Anders Behring Breivik? Well, in the sixth and final volume of My Struggle, Knausgaard explores that connection himself, looking at the darkness inherent in human nature and the choices young people make. The difference being, of course, that while both Karl Ove and Anders are self-conscious and awkward youngsters who want to believe they are the best, Karl Ove is also self-aware and self-deprecating.

oneofusÅsne Seierstad: One of Us – The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway, transl. by Sarah Death

On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb outside the Norwegian prime minister’s office in central Oslo, killing eight people. He then proceeded to a youth camp on the wooded island of Utøya, where he gunned down sixty-nine more, most of them teenage members of the country’s governing Labour Party. In this book, journalist Seierstad explores not only the life of the perpetrator, but also of a few of his victims, and examines the inadequate police emergency response on that day, as well as the debates surrounding his trial and plea of insanity.

We get a glimpse into Breivik’s childhood, his distant father, life with his depressed single mother, attempts to ingratiate himself with the hip-hop community and make a name for himself as a graffiti tagger, a right-wing activist, a successful entrepreneur, and then an Internet game addict and self-styled master warrior who believed he could save Europe from the threat of Islam and multiculturalism. However, Norwegian society is also closely examined: the official rhetoric of feminism and tolerance compared to real-life examples on the ground. We see that Breivik was far from alone in his beliefs, although few were willing to openly voice them and no one else was prepared to take such violent action. And we wonder if it was liberalism or indifference which allowed him to pile up such an arsenal of weapons and bomb-making equipment in a derelict farmhouse.

This was really hard to read at times: detailed, fascinating and distressing in equal measure, and at times it felt voyeuristic and too graphic in its description of the massacre and the grief of the survivors. An important book, however; no doubt about it.

girlbombJari Järvelä: The Girl and the Bomb, transl. by Kristian London

We move to Finland, to the small town of Kotka, near Helsinki. Rust and Metro are graffiti taggers and lovers, always trying to stay one step ahead of the law. Just like in the real-life account of Anders Breivik’s teenage years, the police are cracking down hard on graffiti artists, whom they perceive as ‘vandals’ and often outsource the catching of them to private security firms. As they are being chased one night by these security guards, Rust falls to his death. The guards try to cover up the incident and Metro is determined to take revenge for her boyfriend’s death.

I really enjoyed this short, sharp, clever novel, with its alternating points of view. I liked both of the main characters, feisty Metro and hapless security guard Jere, who only wanted a quiet life but finds himself taking the blame for somebody else. I kept wishing that they weren’t on opposing sides and that there would be an explanation between them and a ‘happy ending’ of sorts. But of course no such happy ending is possible when violence, accusations and misunderstandings escalate. An intriguing peek into an urban subculture, as well as a deep-dive under the seemingly serene surface of Finnish society to the murkiness below.


Friday Fun: More Writers’ Homes in France

Seems like I can never get enough of houses in France, especially those which belong to writers and artists. I’m ranking them in order of luxury. Some of them appear to have come from moneyed backgrounds, others seem to have made a fortune from their work… or perhaps houses were much cheaper back then. Here’s to hoping!

Colette's birthplace, the house of Sido. From
Colette’s birthplace, the house of Sido. From
Alain-Fournier lived here, from
Alain-Fournier lived here, from
I'm guessing Rabelais didn't live here during his period as a monk. From
I’m guessing Rabelais didn’t live here during his period as a monk. From
Painter Gustave Courbet's birthplace, now a museum in the picture-pretty village of Ornans. From
Painter Gustave Courbet’s birthplace, now a museum in the picture-pretty village of Ornans. From
Poet Mallarme's house and garden. From
Poet Mallarme’s house and garden. From
Alphonse Daudet clearly didn't write about this house in his Lettres de mon moulin. From
Alphonse Daudet clearly didn’t write about this house in his Lettres de mon moulin. From
Clearly, if you are a politician as well as a writer, and inherit money from the Tsarina, like Chateaubriand did, your house is outstanding. From
Naturally, if you are a politician as well as a writer, and inherit money from the Tsarina, like Chateaubriand did, your house is outstanding. From



I Thought I Was Doing So Well…

I haven’t signed up to the TBR Triple Dog challenge this year (which means no purchasing or borrowing new books for 3 months, until you reduce your TBR pile considerably). I love the concept, but I failed rather dismally last year. Secretly, however, I was planning to tag along unofficially. I noticed, with some satisfaction, that in January I managed to read 14 from my TBR list, 2 review books, 1 from the library and 1 that a friend lent me. So I blithely informed James at his end of January update that I had done quite well.

But then books started arriving in the post, my willpower weakened and my clicky finger got activated…

So here is the truth of the matter:

Books I borrowed and had to read quickly before returning:

Christos Tsiolkas: Dead Europe

Ian Rankin: Standing in Another Man’s Grave

Books I got sent by publishers:

Karl Ove Knausgaard: Some Rain Must Fall – Vol. 5 about attending writing school and becoming an adult – I dived into it at once

Peter Gardos: Fever at Dawn – 1945 and Hungarian Miklos has just emerged from Belsen and is recovering in a refuggee camp in Sweden; he is looking for love and writes a letter to 117 Hungarian women from his village.

He Jiahong: Hanging Devils – Set in the mid 1990s, this debut by one of China’s foremost legal experts turned crime fiction author describes a rapidly-changing society.

Succumbed to Netgalley temptation:

Simon Booker: Without Trace  – a miscarriage of justice, a childhood sweetheart released from prison and then her own daughter goes missing – can she trust anyone?

Lisa Owens: Not Working – 20-something stops working to figure out what her purpose in life is

Joanna Cannon: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – 1976 and 2 ten-year-olds decide to uncover the mystery of the missing neighbour

Melissa Harrison: Rain – 4 walks in the English weather – better get used to it again

Ordered thanks to enthusiastic reviews (I name the guilty party too):

Javier Marias: Your Face Tomorrow trilogy (Tony Malone)

Andrew McMillan: Physical (Anthony Anaxagorou) – poetry: hymns to the male body, friendship and love

Rebecca Goss: Her Birth (Anthony Anaxagorou) – poetry: series of poems documenting the short life of a daughter born with a rare and incurable heart condition

Claudia Rankine: Citizen (Naomi Frisby) – I’ve read this but wanted my own copy

Complete Novels of E. Nesbit (Simon Thomas) – because I haven’t read any of her novels for adults

So I acknowledge defeat on the buy/borrow/download front, but will stick to reading more from the TBR pile at least…