No Pictures, But Plenty of Books…

I’m back from the holidays and I haven’t got the pictures to prove it. Suffice it to say that Crete was beautiful, hot but not unbearably so, full of history as well as good food and long beaches… and that it was lovely to spend time with some of my dearest friends. Yet, despite all these distractions, I also managed to get¬†quite a bit of reading done. All with a holiday theme (or, at the very least, a beautiful location suitable for holidays).

  1. ZouroudiAnne Zouroudi: The Bull of Mithros – well, how could you go to Greece and not opt for the mouth-watering, sensuous descriptions of Greek landscape, food and way of life… oh, and crime too?
  2. Paul Johnston: The Black Life – also a Greek setting, but much more sombre subject, dealing with the deportation of Jews from Thessaloniki and its present-day consequences
  3. Takagi Akimitsu: The Tattoo Murder Case – intriguing glimpse of life in post-war Japan in the floating world of kinky-ness, tattoo artists and dubious bars
  4. Murakami Haruki: Kafka on the Shore Рreread this novel of magical realism and permanent search set in Shikoku, Japan Рthis time in translation, hence with a lot more comprehension
  5. Melanie Jones: L’Amour Actually – fun, farcical but not terribly realistic portrayal of the transformation of a Louboutin-touting London gal into a French farming enthusiast
  6. EmeraldCathy Ace: The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb – corruption, death and intrigue in Mexico, with a lesson in tequila-making for an engaging, feisty middle-aged heroine
  7. Nicola Upson: Fear in the Sunlight – another installment in the murder mystery series featuring Josephine Tey, this one is set in the purpose-built fake village of Portmeirion in Wales and also features Alfred Hitchcock – yet it’s much more thoughtful and darker than it sounds
  8. Marissa Stapley: Mating for Life – a mother and her three daughters struggle with love, secrets, family and fidelity in this charming but not quite substantial enough tale set largely in the family vacation home on an unspecified lake in the United States.
  9. KellaGraeme Kent: Devil-Devil – the first novel I’ve ever read set in the Solomon Islands just before independence, this is not just an interesting crime story, but also a lesson in anthropology, featuring the delightfully unlikely detecting duo of Kella, a native policeman with tribal peacemaking responsibilities and Sister Conchita, a Catholic nun with a penchant for breaking the rules.

 

Showcase Sunday: Book Haul

Inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren, the aim of Showcase Sunday is to highlight our newest books or book related swag and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops and downloaded onto eReaders each week. For more information about how this feature works and how to join in, see the sparkling and fizzy blog of Books, Biscuits and Tea.

This week the theme has been ‘return to old favourites or classics’ rather than new releases, all (new to me) books by authors I’ve already read and enjoyed.

In the postbox

didionJoan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

How can you deal with sudden, unexpected grief and loss? A heartbreakingly honest look at the year following her husband’s sudden death and the illness of her daughter.

Joan Didion: Blue Nights

Just after the previous book was published, Didion lost her daughter too.  A haunting, passionate and almost angry memoir of her daughter and of parenting in general.

I think these two will have me in a flood of tears… so the rest of my picks for this week are very light-hearted and easy to read.

PamelaPamela Des Barres: I’m with the Band. Confessions of a Groupie.

From the woman who hung out with Jim Morrison, turned down a date with Elvis Presley and was best friends with Robert Plant and Frank Zappa, here is a witty and warm-hearted kiss-and-tell account of the rocking and swinging 60s and 70s, without any of the sleaziness or score-settling that ruins other memoirs. Something to which I suspect my good friend Nicky Wells, rockstar romance writer, will relate.

Downloaded on special offer

Anne Zouroudi: The Bull of Mithros

artemisAnne Zouroudi: The Feast of Artemis

Two installments in the delightful series set in the Greek islands and featuring the mysterious, always nattily-dressed Hermes Diaktoros. The taste, smells and sounds of Greece truly come to life in her books – the perfect summer read.

Irving Wallace: The Prize

I saw the film, starring Paul Newman as the rather non-plussed Nobel Prize-winning writer, but have never read the book, which sounds like good, juicy, scandalous fun. Another ideal read for the summer.

Sent for review

corpseCathy Ace: The Corpse with the Platinum Hair

I have previously read and reviewed two books in the series by this Welsh-Canadian writer, featuring the indomitable amateur detective and dedicated foodie Cait Morgan. I’m happy to say that Cathy Ace never forgets to get in touch when she has a new book out to ask me if I’d be interested in reading it. Thank you, Cathy, always a pleasure!

 

What I’ll Remember of 2013

In terms of books, of course. I know the year is not quite over, but I am stuck in a huge book, so I don’t think I’ll get to read much else.¬†

I’ve done a summary of my top five crime reads (books published in 2013 and reviewed by me) on the Crime Fiction Lover website. These, however, are more of a motley collection of books I’ve loved, regardless of genre, reviews, whether they were published recently or not. ¬†And they don’t fit neatly into a list of ten.

the harbour of Marseille
The harbour of Marseille (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elizabeth Haynes: Into the Darkest Corner     The most frightening description of OCD, conveyed with a real sense of menace. Psychological shudders guaranteed.

Jean-Claude Izzo: Marseille Trilogy    Just glorious, despite the darkness Рa symphony for the senses.

Birgit Vanderbeke: The Mussel Feast    Damning, elegant prose, as precise as a scalpel, dissecting families and tyranny of all kinds.

Katherine Boo: Behind the Beautiful Forevers      Somewhere between anthropology and fiction lies this utterly moving book, an unflinching look at the everyday life, hopes and horrors in an Indian slum. The book that I wish more than anything I could have written.

Esi Eudgyan: Half Blood Blues     Who cares about accuracy, when it has the most amazing voice and melody, all of the whorls of the best of jazz improvisation?

English: Glasgow Cathedral and Royal Infirmary
English: Glasgow Cathedral and Royal Infirmary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Denise Mina: Garnethill ¬† ¬† ¬† Another book strong on voice and characters, perfectly recreating a Glasgow which I’ve never known but can instantly recognise. Initially depressing but ultimately uplifting.

Karin Fossum: Calling Out for You     Almost elegiac crime fiction, with uncomfortable portrayals of casual racism, the cracks in an almost perfect little society/ This was an eerie and haunting tale, almost like a ghost story.

Ioanna Bourazopoulou: What Lot’s Wife Saw       The most imaginative novel I have read all year, it defies all expectations or genre categories. I felt transposed into an Alice in Wonderland world, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Bangkok
Bangkok (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

John Burdett: Bangkok Eight      Clash of cultures and unsentimental look at the flesh trade in Thailand, this one again has an inimitable voice.

Carlotto: At the End of a Dull Day     If you like your humour as black and brief as an espresso, you will love the tough world of Giorgio Pellegrini. So much more stylish than Tarantino!

Karl Ove Knausgaard: A Man in Love¬† ¬† ¬† Perhaps it’s too soon to add it to the list, as I only read it last week, but it felt to me like an instant classic.

So what strikes me about this list?

1) They are none of them a barrel of laughs, although there are occasional flashes of (rather dark) humour in them.

2) With the exception of the Katherine Boo ethnography, I wouldn’t have expected to be bowled over by any of the above. So keeping an open mind is essential for discovering that next amazing read.

3) There were other books which initially made much more of an impression (the Fireworks Brigade, shall we say), but when I look back on what really stuck with me, what made me think or feel differently as a result of reading them, those are the books I would have to point out.

English: Stockholm panorama. Lithography by Ca...
English: Stockholm panorama. Lithography by Carl Johan Billmark 1868. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4) They are each set in a different city and country: London, Marseille, a dining room in Germany, Mumbai, war-time Paris, Glasgow, Norway, the Dead Sea sometime in the future, Bangkok, Venice and Stockholm.  What can I say? I love to travel!

On that more upbeat note, I’ve discovered many new (to me) writers and series this year. Some of them are gentler, funnier reads, perfect to unwind. Here are a few that I hope to read more of: Louise Penny, Martin Walker, Pierre Lemaitre and Anne Zouroudi.

Crime Fiction Pick of July

Come and join me over at Mysteries in Paradise, led by the very able and well-read Kerrie, to see what everyone has been reading this month.  In my case, fewer books got read this month, for a very simple reason called school holidays!

Even fewer got reviewed, so let me just add a sentence or two about my thoughts for each one:

1) Bernard Minier: The Frozen Dead

A strange tale involving a decapitated  horse, a serial killer and a mental asylum in the Pyrenees. Exciting read to cool off during the hot summer months (it takes place in winter, as you might have guessed from the title).  Full review will be shortly available on Crime Fiction Lover.

2) Frédérique Molay: The 7th Woman

Gokan3) Diniz Galhos:¬†GŇćkan ¬†(in French, no English translation available yet)

Tarantino-like crime caper set in Japan, involving an American assassin, a French professor from the Sorbonne, grumpy yakuza chasing each other and a bottle of saké belonging to (you guessed it!) Quentin Tarantino.  Dynamic, explosive and just a shade incomprehensible.

4) Denise Mina: Garnethill

How did I ever miss this series?  A fantastic narrative voice, plunging you into the gritty world of low-paid jobs, drugs and Glasgow squalour. Not as grim as it sounds: ultimately hopeful and uplifting.

5) Karin Fossum: Calling Out for You (a.k.a. The Indian Bride)

Almost unbearably sad story about settled, peaceful middle-aged Norwegian man Gunder Jomann and his Indian bride, who gets murdered as soon as she arrives in the country.  It was disturbing to see how evil deeds can arise out of nowhere, in the apparently most peaceful little town in one of the safest countries in the world.  Not your average police procedural, and one that will haunt me for weeks to come.

6) Orhan Pamuk: The Museum of Innocence – will get a review of its own for my Works in Translation Challenge.

midas7) Anne Zouroudi: The Taint of Midas

Not as cosy as you might think at first sight, given the idyllic location of the Greek islands, the authoritative presence of the investigator Hermes Diaktoros and the overall charm of the author’s writing style. ¬†The ‘whodunit’ component was not quite compelling enough, but this is a book to savour for its characters, descriptions and telling details. ¬†Perfect holiday read, in the best sense of the word.

8) M.C. Grant: Devil with a Gun

Another great holiday read, this time a would-be noir set in San Francisco, featuring the Russian mafia and starring Dixie Flynn, the most feisty, witty, don’t care-ish female detective (actually, a journalist) since V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone. ¬†Review coming up on Crime Fiction Lover.

9) The PEN/ O. Henry Prize Stories 2012

The quality of the stories is not in doubt, but I was somewhat disappointed by the uniformity of the selection. ¬†All the stories were rather wistful and nostalgic, all a bit oblique – sometimes too much so, to the point where I felt like saying ‘So what?’. ¬†But perhaps that’s just me being obtuse.

FossumHappy to say that half of my reads were by women authors this month, and four of them were originally written in another language. ¬†And my Crime Pick of the Month? ¬†It’s a tie between Denise Mina and Karin Fossum, very hard to choose, ¬†but perhaps the Fossum book will linger in my memory longest.