Summary of Reading April 2016

housesmyrna 1974 maylis allthingscease

 

 

 

 

Over the next few days, I’ll be busy with the Salon du Livre Book Fair in Geneva, rehearsals for my older son and organising a sleepover for my younger one, so I don’t think there will be any time left over for reading. So here is my monthly wrap-up, a bit earlier than usual.

  1. Matt Johnson: Wicked Game
  2. Cathy Ace: The Corpse with the Garnet Face
  3. David Peace: 1974
  4. Paul Kalanithi: When Breath Becomes Air
  5. Tatiana Salem Levy: The House in Smyrna
  6. Lisa Owens: Not Working
  7. Sarah Hilary: Tastes Like Fear
  8. Tammy Cohen: When She Was Bad
  9. CL Taylor: The Missing
  10. Paolo Sorrentino: Youth
  11. Jean-Michel Guenassia: Le Club des incorrigibles optimistes
  12. Elizabeth Brundage: All Things Cease to Appear
  13. Marina Sonkina: Expulsion and Other Stories
  14. Samantha Hayes: In Too Deep – review to appear on CFL
  15. Maylis de Kerangal: Reparer les vivants
  16. Jax Miller: Freedom’s Child
  17. Alain Farah: Ravenscrag
  18. Elena Ferrante: The Story of a New Name
  19. Linda Wagner-Martin: Sylvia Plath: A Biography
  20. David Mitchell: Back Story

A few figures:
For review on CFL: 4
Crime fiction: 10
Women or BAME writers: 15
Translated or foreign language: 6

Cheating a little bit – the first four were read just before April started but after I’d written my March post, so I had to move them to this month. And just for my own accounting, I wanted to see the source of each book this time: 5 review copies from publishers, 6 requested on Netgalley, 6 bought, 3 library loans.

Books donated this month: 17. Books bought (aside from the slip-up at Quais du Polar): 11. At this rate, the book shipment back to the UK is going to be quite massive…

tasteslikefearCrime fiction pick of the month: Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary, with Jax Miller’s book as an Honourable Mention  (I need to review it, but suffice it to say it’s got a memorable voice).

Overall Pick of the Month: I won’t even attempt to select between the stand-out reads of this month. Here are the ones which impressed me most (in addition to the crime fiction picks above): David Peace, Tatiana Salem Levy, Elizabeth Brundage and Maylis de Kerangal. I still owe you reviews of the latter two.

 

 

April Showers of Reading – and a Wowser of a Thriller

I’m not going to finish any more books this month, so I might as well do the summary now. Total number: 11

2 in French (which is why it took a while for me to read them), 1 translated from French, rest in English in original.

5 crime fiction (perhaps my lowest proportion in ages), 1 poetry

GuerresaleIn French: 

Pierre Lemaitre: Au-revoir la-haut  – deeply moving account of soldiers’ return from the trenches of WW1

Dominique Sylvain: Guerre Sale (Dirty War)

 The ‘dirty war’ of the title refers to the war over natural resources and selling of weapons, which wealthy countries carry out on the African continent. In this book, however, it is barely mentioned within the African context itself. Instead we see a stream of characters with links to the Congo (perhaps too many characters, it gets hard at times to keep track), all acting out their sad tale of corruption, revenge and nasty secrets on the streets of Paris. Sylvain can write a good old plot twist as well as the best of them, but the opening and close of this novel prove what a great writing style she has too. This is the fifth in the Lola and Ingrid series, and I love the dynamic between these two unconventional investigators, but this time it was the police inspector Sacha Duguin who took centre-stage.

 

Poetry:

Collected Poems of May Sarton

Non-crime:

I’ve talked about Stela Brinzeanu’s ‘Bessarabian Nights’ and Claire Messud’s ‘The Woman Upstairs’ in the same post, dissimilar though they are in style and subject matter. I’ve also read two other books which I’ve occasionally heard labelled as ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘book club fiction’: Nancy Freund’s ‘Rapeseed’ and Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn: ‘The Piano Player’s Son’.  Women’s literature or book club fictions sounds rather disparaging if you allow it to, but this is not my intent at all. Plus, I don’t like labels (on people, books or anything, except perhaps food labelling). However, they were of the ‘family secrets and resentments’ type of story. They were certainly not of the dull school of literary fiction, where nothing much happens except admiring self in mirror or noticing raindrops on the window. The stories were certainly not lacking in incident – in fact, there was perhaps all too much incident, like soap operas almost, full of ‘he said, she said’ accusations, misunderstandings, tears, shouting, sibling rivalry etc. I want to cast no disparagement against these writers – there were some entertaining characters and quite a few passages of excellent prose there, but I have to confess that book-length is just too much for me for this type of story. I am really not the best critic, as I am not the right audience for this kind of writing, but if you like family sagas, both these authors can write well.

Crime Fiction:

Henry Sutton: My Criminal World

Tony Parsons: The Murder Bag

Tony Parsons, known for his ‘male chick lit’ type novels about the trials and tribulations of thirty-something men with relationship problems, is now crossing over to crime fiction. Can he carry it off? Well, you’ll have to wait and read my review on the Crime Fiction Lover website.

cemeteryMallock: The Cemetery of Swallows

An unusual story, straddling the Dominican Republic and Paris, with a nearly impossible set-up and a solution that seems to border on the supernatural. Reminiscent of Fred Vargas, Mallock (both the writer and his eponymous detective) has got a style all his own. To be reviewed soon on Crime Fiction Lover.

I_Am_Pilgrim_-_hardback_UK_jacketTerry Hayes: I Am Pilgrim

I don’t like spy thrillers, I don’t like lone rangers who are mankind’s only hope of survival… and yet I read this book very nearly in one sitting. It breaks all the rules… and gets away with it.  The first person narrator suddenly starts telling you in great detail things that happened elsewhere and what was in his enemy’s mind, things he couldn’t possibly know. It jumps back and forth in time, from country to country, from character to character, all the while with the main protagonist pronouncing sombrely ‘And that was my mistake… this is where things went wrong… if I had only known about that…’, which adds to the sense of ominous foreboding. It is at times simplistic and racist, but at other times complex and nuanced. It is incredibly exciting, a cat and mouse chase which will leave you breathless, yet the story is nothing spectacularly new (terrorist attack through biochemical weapons, anyone?). It has disturbing graphic descriptions of torture – and also moments of introspection, of cynical realisation of the unsavoury practices of police and government agencies in every country. To my surprise, I loved it: it really is a wowser of a thriller!

So, all in all, an excellent month of reading: 3 outstanding books in 3 different genres, 4 very good books and no duds, just books that weren’t perhaps quite my cup of tea. For Crime Fiction Pick of the month I would say ‘I Am Pilgrim’, simply because it was surprising how much I enjoyed it – the magic of storytelling indeed! See what other book bloggers have chosen as their crime fiction pick of the month over at Mysteries in Paradise.

Coming up in May: non-fiction about parenting Far from the Tree, crime fiction of course, and some German and Japanese literature for a change.