Quick Video Reviews: Crime Fiction

This was filmed a few days ago, so in the meantime I can report that I have finished reading the Miklos Banffy book – and by now am so fully immersed in that world that I have to procure myself and read the whole trilogy. Outstanding chronicle of a certain place and time!

The others I mention below (with a lot of stuttering and pausing – maybe next time I should prepare a script) are: Ragnar Jonasson, Oliver Bottini, Thomas Willmann and the Murder on Christmas Eve anthology. You can find my full reviews of two of these on Crime Fiction Lover: Whiteout and Christmas mysteries.

I’m not signing off for the year yet, and over the coming weeks will be presenting my Top Reading Choices for 2017 and beyond. Oh, and I borrowed my younger s son’s inverted strawberry hat again – quite seasonal with the snowfall we’ve had pretty much all day here!

 

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Friday Fun: When Money Is No Object…

Of course, if money were no object for me (and you, dear readers), I suspect we would just have simple but cosy living quarters above a huge and famous library. However, most wealthy people in the world seem to prefer the flashily obvious displays of wealth. So this is what money can buy you… And I have to admit some of them are not too shabby! (All pictures taken from the glorious Home Adore website).

So now you understand why they want their tax cuts…

Fairview residence at night, designed by Leslie Minervini.
Terrace of the same Fairview Residence – Bellevue, right?
Banyan Tree Residence designed by Choeff Levy Fischman. Multiple pools and lakeside mooring.
More modest house designed by Mercurio Design Lab, but it’s only for the weekend…
Front of the Mercurio house is surprisingly low key.
And if you want your private ski cabin, this one by Skli will do it for me.

 

 

Reading Bingo 2017

Thank you to Cleo for reminding me about this, one of my favourite annual memes – the Reading Bingo. It’s always a mad scramble to see if I can fit any of my haphazard reading into the categories at the end of the year, but I was very ambitious last year and did two of each. I’d struggle to do that this year: in fact, I may not be able to fill in the whole sheet!

More than 500 Pages

Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne

Forgotten Classic

Late Fame by Arthur Schnitzler – this was quite literally forgotten, or set aside by the author and never published until a couple of years ago

Turned into a Movie

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon – although I haven’t actually watched the two adaptations

Published This Year

Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski – what a brilliant, creepy, atmospheric story, capturing our passion for podcasts and the teenage grumpiness very well

Number in Title

Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre – a much gentler pace than this master of the chilling read has accustomed us to

Written by Someone Under 30

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis – at least I think the author is still very young, and he published this in French quite a few years ago. Correct me if I’m wrong. Besides, I may want to turn this into ‘a book by someone over 70’ instead!

Non-Human Characters

The Humans by Matt Haig – well, it’s an alien and a dog who pull most at the heartstrings

Funny

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson – delightful comedy of manners

Female Author

Folle by Nelly Arcan – so many I could have chosen from, but I decided to choose one that could only have been written by a fierce and bitter woman

Mystery

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny – I couldn’t resist picking the title which has the most resonance – and it is, indeed, a mystery in a crime fiction series

One-Word Title

Men by Marie Darrieussecq – not my favourite book, it had a bit of a colonial feel to it

Short Stories

The Stories by Jane Gardam – klipp und klar, as the Germans would say – outstanding stories by a real master/mistress of the genre

Free Square

Most obscure: Vlad by Carlos Fuentes – and perhaps should stay so…

Different Continent

Boundary by Andree A. Michaud – Maine and Canada, border country, and an area I know very little about

Non-Fiction

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich – probably one of my top reads of the year

First Book by Favourite Author

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim – it was a reread, but just delightful, even for a non-gardener like myself

Heard About Online

To Clear the Air by Mechtild Borrmann – I usually think Mrs. P’s recommendations are unbeatable, but this book did not quite do it for me. However, she has written others and they are better.

Bestseller

The Power by Naomi Alderman – I realised this was quite a difficult category for me, as the books I like don’t usually sell in the hundreds of thousand which shout bestseller to me, but I think this one did quite well after winning a few prizes. I’ve certainly seen it everywhere in bookshops and libraries.

True Story

This House of Grief by Helen Garner – just heart-breaking, another contender for book of the year – and I’m not even a huge non-fiction fan

Bottom of TBR Pile

On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe by Andrzej Stasiuk – I think this one has been on my bookshelves for quite a while, I can’t even remember when I bought it

Loved by a Friend

Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker – Liz Barnsley, book blogger and crime fiction aficionado/editor had been buzzing about this one for ages – and it really lived up to every recommendation!

Scary

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – subtle horror – in fact, just put all of Shirley Jackson’s work in this category

More than 10 Years Old

The Last Summer by Ricarda Huch – a nice old-fashioned feel to this, and yet still terribly timely

2nd in a Series

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner – she’s fast becoming a favourite author, and I can’t wait for the next one!

Blue Cover

Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie

And it will forever remind me of that wonderful, educational and inspirational weekend of poetry!

And, just because there weren’t a lot of pictures involved in the above, here is a gratuitous picture of my favourite non-human, bemused and bedecked for Christmas.

 

 

Quick Video Reviews: Women Writers 2017

The pile of books to be reviewed was threatening to fall from my ‘filing cabinet’ (aka armchair), so I am resorting once more to quick video reviews. These all have a rather sombre theme running through them, but are heartily recommended – for when you are of a cheery disposition to handle them. I’ve tried to add a festive mood nevertheless with some tinsel!

Friday Fun: Abandoned Interiors

Not quite sure if the pictures below fit in with anyone’s definition of fun. They make me quite sad, as I look at the remnants of past glory and how once stately, cosy interiors have been left to rot. Like animals in a shelter, I’d love to give them all a second chance if I could. What made people abandon them in such a hurry that they left all the furnishings behind?

Also, I think just one room could fit in all of my family and belongings.

Victorian ghost house, makes me think of The Lady in Black. From Abduzeedo.com
Belgian chateau – the parental suite, by Dan Marbaix at Caters News.
Another Victorian splendour, from eistplus.com
Abandoned hotel in the US, from CNN.com
This is the saddest of all for a booklover: abandoned library, photo by James Charlick.
Abandoned manor house in France complete with grand piano, from urbanghostsmedia.com
Grand staircase, from Pinterest.
Abandoned mansion in Taipei, from Pinterest.

 

 

It’s Here: The Asymptote Book Club!

In the end, my contribution was much smaller than everyone else’s in creating and launching the site, but I am very proud to announce that the Asymptote Book Club is now open! One new piece of global literature every month, plus interviews with authors, translators, invitations to events, online discussion spaces and so on. It makes a great Christmas or New Year’s gift for your friends, relatives or yourself (I’m the last person to judge you on that!)

And, needless to say, more necessary than ever in a word where countries and cultures seem to be closing in on themselves.

So here is the link, go forth and explore!

https://www.asymptotejournal.com/book-club/

The Importance of Language Skills

In a recent report the British Council warned that a post-Brexit Britain will need more rather than fewer language skills. ‘Language skills must be a priority’ – the headline trumpets. Yes, must, but it won’t (thanks to Sunny Singh for the Tweet which inspired this!). I’ve seen this time and again – and there are many reasons for the lack of interest in other languages.

  1. Those of us who come from ‘little’ cultures with lesser-known languages know all too well that English has become the universal language of business and even tourism to some extent. What’s the point of learning to say a few stuttering words in Polish or Japanese or Spanish when everyone is eager to practise their English on you anyway?
  2. English is easier to learn (or at least the basic Global English which passes for English on the international scene) than many other languages: relatively simple grammar even if you don’t quite master when to use the present participle or the past tense. And you can get by on a reduced vocabulary. As for spelling – well, many native English speakers don’t spell all that well – and what are spellcheckers for, anyway?
  3. Americans and Brits have dominated world politics and economics for the past 100-200 years, so everyone aspires to move over here and integrate into this culture and language. And if they don’t, shame on them, how dare they keep there stoopid backward traditions? Haven’t they seen how well integrated our British expats are in other societies?
  4. Everyone else is far away and pointlessly complicated. We’ve got enough things to worry about over here. If they really want to communicate with us, they should learn our language and tell us what they need/want/how they plan to invest in our country and make our economy great again.
  5. People keep saying how useful languages can be for your careers, but I can prove them wrong. Although people always say how impressive my array of languages is, they never ever hired or promoted me because of them. They gave me all the crummy jobs that no one else wanted because of them, put me in impossible situations to restore confidence in a relationship they had already destroyed through lack of cultural sensitivity and then blamed me when it didn’t go according to their myopic plan.
From TES.

So is there one thing that might tempt Brits to learn another language? Well, my older son has a theory about why English footballers fail to live up to their youthful promise. They don’t get much chance to play in the Premier League as they become adults, because of all the foreign players who do speak some English and are willing to relocate. And the English players are reluctant to move abroad and gain experience in other leagues, because they lack the language skills.

Of course, not all of us had the opportunity to learn languages at school (and the way they are taught and the lack of teachers or high standards is another matter). But we can at least remain curious and open towards other cultures, read as much as we can in translation, ask questions, familiarise ourselves with world history and geography… But no, I was shocked to see that children from the age of 13 can opt out of history, geography and any languages other than English for their GCSE. They can study PE, food tech, photography and business studies instead – all very nice in themselves, but lacking the international perspective (at least in what they cover). No wonder we have insular Britain!

Finally, the secret spy part of me would like to know what other colleagues are whispering about me and the organisation in the corridors. The number of times I’ve heard German, French, Japanese, Romanian colleagues grumble about things in their own language sotto voce… and their American masters are none the wiser.

I suppose the only solution is for the Brits to retaliate with their ‘hmmm, such an interesting concept’ = ‘that’s a load of bollocks’.

British expats in Spain, from IB Times UK.