Best of the September Reading Crop

20140817_140126Well, it’s harvest time, with some of my favourite fruit now in season: grapes, apples, plums, peaches… I am full and replete with the joys of eating, but what about my reading this month?

It’s been a month of heavy English-language domination for some reason. Out of the 10 books I read (I’m not counting the re-reads for the moment), 6 have been written by English-speaking authors, of which 2 Americans, 2 Scottish and 2 English (I am nothing if not fair and neutral about the referendum on Scottish independence). Israel, Egypt, Switzerland and Swiss/China have been my other sources of books.  Unusually, only half (five) of the books I read this month were crime fiction.

1) Anne Fine: Taking the Devil’s Advice – who’d have thought that a writer I knew predominantly for her children’s books can write such dark and humorous fiction for adults too?

Kerry Hudson, photo from The Guardian.
Kerry Hudson, photo from The Guardian.

2) Kerry Hudson: Thirst – love moves in mysterious ways: a very clear-eyed picture of modern London, immigrants and hope in the midst of squalour – highly recommended

3) Derek B. Miller: Norwegian by Night – there is much to like in this book about an octogenarian and a little boy on the run from Kosovan criminals in a country where they don’t speak the language… but I didn’t quite love it as much as other readers

bratfarrar4) Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar – I reread all of Tey’s crime novels for this feature for Classics in September for Crime Fiction Lover (CFL). The Franchise Affair, The Daughter of Time and Miss Pym Disposes are the best known of her novels, but I had not previously read Brat Farrar, the story of a planned scam to defraud a family of an inheritance. Although (in my opinion) it has aged slightly less well than her other novels, it is still a delightful read, excellent characterisation – and, as always with Tey, with much deeper moral dilemmas than is obvious at first sight.

5) D. A. Mishani: A Possibility of Violence – I’ll also be writing a review and conducting an interview with the author for CFL

6) Joan Smith: What Men Say – a reminder that reading tastes change in 20 years: I previously enjoyed Loretta Lawson and her investigations coloured by feminism. I found this book too much ranting and not enough plotting, mystery or suspense.

7) Naguib Mahfouz: The Beginning and the End – essential for understanding a certain period of Egyptian history, this is also a very dramatic family saga

8) M.L. Longworth: Murder on the Ile Sordou – an island off the coast of France, near Marseilles, a newly opened hotel with a disparate group of guests and staff of varying levels of experience (and with the obligatory secrets). A murder occurs and the island is not quite sealed off, but certainly under investigation to find the murderer – a familiar set-up for crime fiction fans. I can never resist a French location and I’ll review this very soon on CFL.

9) Joseph Incardona: Banana Spleen – I’ll post a more detailed review of this perhaps as part of a theme ‘Men Without Their Women’. A downward spiral for the 30+ something male protagonist, showing that despair and aimlessness is possible even in such well-regulated cities as Geneva.

seaofink_0_220_33010) Richard Weihe: Sea of Ink – This is also written by a Swiss author (of German language, while Incardona is Franco-Italian Swiss) and also deserves a more detailed review. Based on the few details known about the life of one of China’s most prominent calligraphers and artists, this is a prose-poem about creativity, inspiration and discipline, mastering the Way of Tao, finding both reality and self in great art.

So what was my top read of the month? Overall, it was Kerry Hudson‘s poignant novel ‘Thirst’ – it really struck a chord with me. My crime fiction pick of the month would be Mishani’s A Possibility of Violence – my first experience of Israeli crime fiction and thus feeling rather fresh and unusual.

 

Showcase Sunday: Another Severe Case of Book Acquisition…

I am supposedly on a book buying moratorium, but this week I cracked and completely forgot about it. After the Chateau de Lavigny readings that I attended last Sunday, I could not resist buying  paperback books by at least two of the authors present there.

glowJessica Maria Tuccelli: Glow – five unforgettable voices weaving over a century of Southern life in America; slave plantations have been built adjacent to the glades of a razed Cherokee nation. An epic novel, filled with many personal, intimate stories.

 

 

ChokeChainJason Donald: Choke Chain – Nelson Mandela said: ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ In 1980s apartheid South Africa, bad parenting seems to be rife, as two young boys find out about deceit, violence and petty crime from their volatile father.

 

Then I made the mistake of reading some reviews I trust and following some writers’ Twitter stream… and got excited about the following two books, which I downloaded in electronic format.

 Anne Fine: Taking the Devil’s Advice – already read and reviewed here

BecauseSheLovesMeMark Edwards: Because She Loves Me – a psychological thriller, filled with passion, obsession, jealousy and murderous intent. I’ve previously enjoyed the build-up of suspense in Edward’s novel ‘The Magpies’, so am curious to see what he does next.

 

I also borrowed a book in French from the library: Susie Morgenstein: Confession d’une grosse patate – a half-serious, half-humorous look at the plight and self-flagellation of an overweight woman. I later discovered it was not by a French writer at all, so there were no loving descriptions of foie gras and wine…

Finally, yesterday I attended the literature festival ‘Le Livre sur les Quais’ (Books by the Quay) in Morges in Switzerland. I had the pleasure of meeting several writers I know, admire, have read or am currently reading: Louise Doughty, Noami Wood (of ‘Mrs. Hemingway’ fame), Val McDermid, Nathan Filer. I was with a German/Swiss friend who introduced me to some German-speaking writers, while I introduced him to some French and English-speaking ones. So of course I had to buy a few books and get them signed… Sadly, none of them are yet available in English.

FouadLarouiFouad Laroui: L’étrange affaire du pantalon de Dassoukine (The Strange Affair of Dassoukine’s Trousers).

A short story collection which won the Goncourt novella prize last year, this is a wonderful mix of surrealism, absurdity and cross-cultural comparison written with great humour and compassion. I previously read and briefly reviewed this Moroccan-French writer’s wonderful book about a year in the French education system. And doesn’t this one have an irresistable cover?

 

IncardonaJoseph Incardona: 220 Volts

I love the noirish style of this Swiss-Italian writer (who writes in French) and hope he will soon get translated into English. This is the story of writer’s block mixed with marital block – a couple go on holiday in an isolated mountain chalet to try and rekindle both their relationship and their artistic inspiration. Of course, things don’t go according to plan…

 

SwissTrafficMary Anna Barbey: Swiss Traffic

The latest book by this American-turned-Swiss author, it is crime fiction with an extra literary dimension. It also bravely examines human trafficking in this wealthiest, most peaceful of Alpine countries. It is also the book that I saw several French writers reading while they were waiting for their book signings to start: always a good sign!

 

This post is linked up to the Showcase Sunday meme hosted by Vicky at Book, Biscuits and Tea. A great chance for us to oooh and aaah over our latest acquisitions. And remortgage our house to buy some more!

Showcase Sunday banner

Friday Fun: Three Quick Reads by Women Writers

I alternate the heavier tomes with more fun or thrilling reads (not that thought-provoking bookys aren’t fun or thrilling, but you know what I mean…), so here are some recommended books for this weekend. They slide oh so smoothly down your reading chords in just a matter of hours! And I’ve even associate some drinks for each one of them (because it’s the weekend!).

PaulaDalyPaula Daly: Keep Your Friends Close

Natty and Sean married young but have a good marriage and a hotel business they have worked very hard to build. Natty is perhaps getting a little too absorbed in running the business and the family, but Sean seems to understand. Or does he? When their daughter suffers an accident on a school trip and Natty rushes to her side, her friend Eve steps in to help the family back home. But Eve turns out to be a femme fatale in the guise of a friend, who manages to make Sean fall in love with her and drives a wedge between Natty and her family. Daly is so good at creating situations we can all somehow relate to, even if her characters are not all that sympathetic. Despite some elements which strain credibility, the odd plot-hole and an ending I did not quite agree with, this was a real page-turner and a tense, if somewhat cynical lesson in psychology.

Drink: Campari Orange, refreshing and initially sweet, but with a tinge of bitter

Cathy Ace: The Corpse with the Platinum Hair

prweb.com
prweb.com

A fourth outing for criminologist Cait Morgan, this time in that temple of decadence known as Las Vegas. Invited for birthday celebrations at a private members’ club, Cait and her boyfriend Bud become embroiled in a classic locked room mystery when there is a power cut, a murder and a security meltdown meaning that they and ten possible suspects are all locked for 12 hours in a luxurious but deadly restaurant. A detailed review will be coming up on Crime Fiction Lover.

Drink: The theme of the night is Russian and plenty of caviar is being served, so what else can we team that up with but ice-cold vodka?

Anne Fine: Taking the Devil’s Advice

AnneFineFine does more than just Killer Cat children’s books. Her books for grown-ups shed an uncompromising light into the flaws and dark recesses of the human psyche. This story of a marriage and a divorce – alternating between ‘his and her’ version of events – is brutally funny and mercilessly analytic, although none of the characters emerge unscathed.

[I discovered this one thanks to Sophie Hannah on Twitter. I owe quite a few reads to her, Stav Sherez and Eva Dolan. It pays to follow good writers, you see, because they are always, invariably, good readers as well!]

Drink: Tequila shots, with plenty of salt to rub into the wounds