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.

 

 

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Summary of Reading October 2017 and Plans for November

Well, would you believe it how October galloped away with me! I only read 7 books, in spite of commuting and its inherent delaying tactics. That is perhaps the lowest number since I started recording my reading on the blog and on Goodreads – and probably reflective of starting two new jobs at the same time and also having children on holiday for part of the month.

Out of the 7 I managed to finish, I have to admit that the vast majority were crime novels (5), while the remaining two had criminal elements and themes. Humph – this doesn’t bode well for any railway professionals who might have the temerity to ask for my opinion about their services, especially given the high cost of commuting. 4 books by women, 3 by men, 2 in translation.

Julie T. Wallace as the She-Devil in the BBC adaptation of the book. Ignore the American film, which is terrible.

October Reads

Eva Dolan: This Is How It Ends -standalone from one of my favourite new writers

Lloyd Otis: Deadlands – debut novel about a serial killer in 1970s London, no review forthcoming but an interview with the author will be up on Crime Fiction Lover shortly

Adrian Magson: Rocco and the Nightingale – delighted to finally have a new book in this series set in 1960s rural Picardie, review to come on CFL

Jenny Quintana: The Missing Girl – less thriller, more a carefully nuanced coming of age story, with beautifully observed sibling rivalry and collusion

Peter Høeg: The Susan Effect – an entertaining enough premise – having the ability to make people open up to you and tell you their life stories (I seem to have that to a certain extent, but of course this is exaggerated in the book), but the conspiracy theory and the ending gets a bit silly

Ariana Harwicz: Die, My Love – upsetting insight into a disturbed mind, full of pain and depression, very emotional and riveting

Fay Weldon: The Life and Loves of a She-Devil – a quick reread to cheer on this subversive fantasy revenge story

November Plans

The #1968Club is taking place this week and I intend to (re)read The Wizard of Earthsea, which was published in that year and which meant the world to me when I was a child.

I need to write and update the #EU27Project – must finish it before Brexit is finalised… and I seem to be as slow and muddled about it as our beloved negotiators! But at least I have better and less selfish intentions than them, or so I believe.

I am also ploughing on through two mammoth reads: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled and Miklos Banffy’s They Were Counted. They might take me all month or even last until the end of 2017.

Fingers crossed, I might be able to attend a masterclass with the wonderful Scottish writer and poet Kathleen Jamie in Geneva this coming month (I have applied but have to wait to see if I’ve been accepted). So I am planning to indulge in some of her work, especially poetry

Last, but not least, I have two Nordic literary events coming up (which will probably mean more books added to my groaning shelves). The first of these is the launch of the book Love/War by Swedish writer Ebba Witt-Brattström by Nordisk Books. Described as a feminist story which allows women ‘to see through male dominant behaviour’, and based on the author’s own bitter divorce, how could I resist it? The second launch is the by-now-legendary Orenda Books and Ragnar Jonasson’s latest novel in the Dark Iceland series Whiteout.

 

Incoming Books – Week of 16-22 October

My iron willpower may not match that of the legendary Fiction Fan, but I have tried to limit my spending on books, since I realised that my income is now a stable monthly affair, and cannot be supplemented by a few extra days of work.

So this week most of the books I’ve acquired have been sent for review or borrowed from the library. So there, ye doubters! I did have one momentary lapse of reason when I entered that fatal Waterstone’s near work and found their second-hand vintage Penguin section. I spent many a happy minute (hour?) in the sea of orange and emerged victorious with High Rising by Angela Thirkell. I’ve never read anything by this author, who was very popular in the 1930s/40s, but this book in particular has been discussed by several bloggers whose opinion I value, including Jacqui, Heaven Ali and Booker Talk (the last not very complimentary).

Plus, you can see why the premise of a single mother trying to make a living as a novelist in order to educate her sons might appeal to me…

Although I’m trying to pretend Christmas is still miles away, I was sent a Christmas anthology Murder on Christmas Eve by Profile Books. Classic Christmas-themed mysteries always make for popular presents for booklovers whose tastes you don’t quite know, so this should do a roaring trade. It includes stories by Ian Rankin, Ellis Peters, G. K. Chesterton, Val McDermid, Margery Allingham and many more. And you can’t fault the cover either for what it promises!

One I received this week and have already read (gasp! yes, I am occasionally speedy!) was Jenny Quintana’s The Missing GirlI was very touched by the fact that Emma Draude, the publicist for the book, actually sent me her own personal copy, as she had just run out of preview copies. So it’s a much-loved proof! And I found it very compelling – although perhaps the label of crime fiction does it an injustice. This is not the kind of book which you read for unfathomable twists (in fact, I figured out what was going on pretty early on). Instead, I enjoyed it for the pitch-perfect evocation of the 1980s, excellent writing and the psychological depth of sisterly love, family secrets and the lonely surliness of growing up.

My local library finally found a book I had reserved as soon as I heard that Kazuo Ishiguro had won the Nobel Prize, namely The Unconsoledone of the few which I haven’t read. I can feel another bout of Artist of the Floating World coming along, that is my favourite book by him, probably because of the obvious Japanese connection.

Last but not least, I ‘happened’ to pass by the Senate House Library at lunchtime and got lost in the Latin American section. I couldn’t resist Vlad by Carlos Fuentes, translated by E. Shaskan Bumas and Alejandro Branger. A Mexican take on the Romanian Vlad the Impaler? Yes, please! In this book, Vlad is upset by the shortage of blood in modern-day Eastern Europe and is looking for a new place to establish his kingdom. What country or city on earth could offer him a lot of people crowded in one place, where a few human disappearances wouldn’t even be noticed? Well, Mexico City, of course! And so begins this satire of the Mexican bourgeoisie…

I notice that, by some strange coincidence, all of the cover pictures above seem to be going for the monochrome look tinged with red. Luckily, the bright orange Penguin spoils that sober elegance!

So what lovely reads have you begged, borrowed, stolen or bought this week? Do tempt me if you can…

All Appeared New and Strange at First…

Although perhaps not quite at the level of the end of this quote from metaphysical poet Thomas Traherne: ‘… inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful’.

Yes, I am pushing out my little sailing-boat to new, unexplored shores. New job, new timetable, new way of presenting my book haul and a meeting with one of my living heroines: Herta Müller.

I thought I might save some time if I present my book haul in a one-take video and upload that on You Tube. I’m not quite convinced yet that it will be a time-saver, but perhaps this will get faster as I become more familiar with the settings. I rather cringe, though, when I see and hear myself speaking. Plus, my anonymity is gone now!

Here is the link to the video. Let me know if you have any problems viewing it.

I’m off to catch the train to see Herta Müller at the British Library and will write more about it when I get back.

WWWednesday: What Are You Reading? – 13 Sep 2017

WWW Wednesday is a meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. It’s open for anyone to join in and is a great way to share what you’ve been reading! All you have to do is answer three questions and share a link to your blog in the comments section of Sam’s blog.

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

A similar meme is run by Lipsyy Lost and Found where bloggers share This Week in Books #TWiB.

Current:

Miklós Bánffy: They Were Counted – for #EU27Project and because it is about Transylvania just before, during and after WW1. Bánffy was a politician as well as a writer born in Transylvania, and he is nostalgic but also scathing about the Hungarian aristocracy. It is a massive tome (and it’s just the first of a trilogy), so I think it should keep me quiet for months to come.

Laura Kaye: English Animals – one of those cultural exploration stories which I find so fascinating. A Slovakian woman gets a job as a sort of housekeeper in an English country house owned by an eccentric mismatched couple. Library book which I couldn’t resist getting. Even better: it’s in large print, so the pages just whizz by!

Santiago Gamboa: Return to the Dark Valley – what is it about these Latin Americans that they are so visceral and interesting and wild? An impossible to define novel about fear, dislocation, crimes, revenge and an increasingly global world. Experimental and yet immensely readable.

 

Recent:

Grazia Deledda: After the Divorce – I will write a proper review of this for #EU27Project, but it’s a sweeping picture of a Sardinian village, with all its poverty, gossip, violence and passion. There have been some complaints about the translation, but it sounds quite modern (perhaps too much so?) to me.

Terence Portelli (ed.): Tangerine Sky: Poems from Malta – review to come for #EU27Project. Nice to read something from a culture and country that I know very little about.

Maggie Nelson: Bluets – is this poetry, essay, memoir? A bit of each? An investigation into the colour blue (my favourite) and the end of a relationship.

Future:

Helen Dunmore: Birdcage Walk – the last novel of a wonderful writer, who will be much missed

Sarah Vaughan: Anatomy of a Scandal – political thriller, was going to be part of my summer reading, but I never got around to it

I will be starting a new full-time job on Monday, which will involve daily commuting into London. Whether that adds to my reading time remains to be seen. I am afraid it may sadly eat into my writing and blogging time. However, I suspect that all those who follow me on Twitter will be hugely relieved that I will be spending less time on that platform!

 

Summer Update on #EU27Project

What is lovely about the #EU27Project and its easy-going nature is that it bubbles along nicely even if I somewhat neglect it occasionally. And that is thanks to all of your contributions, dear readers and bloggers. Let me try to summarise, however, what has been added to the bouquet of links over the past 3 months. We now have a total of 70 reviews up there (although I have to exclude 4 which are either duplicates or errors) and, for the stats fiends amongst you:

From Urbanexpression.org.uk
  • France leads the way with 12 reviews
  • Austria is punching well above its size with 9
  • Germany and The Netherlands have 6 each
  • Denmark and Italy are next, with 5 each
  • Ireland and Finland have 4
  • Poland and Belgium are on 3
  • Portugal, Croatia and Czechia are on just 2 each
  • And poor Spain only has 1 review – thank you Lizzy!

We have had the good fortune of attracting some new contributors. Marcelle is a Norwegian booklover who blogs at Lesser Known Gems. As the name indicates, she likes finding the less obvious classical authors and books which deserve to be more widely read, and she does so from a very international perspective. She has added some Portuguese, Italian, Austrian  Belgian and Dutch gems to our links page. In fact, her puzzled review of Grazia Deledda’s After the Divorce made me seek it out to read and make up my own mind.

Emma from Book Around the Corner has also joined us with a review of short stories by 1920s Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz.  And I’m delighted to say that Maphead has come back after a long absence with a Croatian entry.

Elsewhere, we have plentiful and excellent reviews from Jonathan, Susan Osborne, Lizzy’s Literary Life, The Book Satchel and Booker Talk. Some of our earlier contributors have taken a wee bit of a rest (as I have myself, so who’s to blame them?), but I hope they will remember to link some more of their reviews in the future. In the meantime, there is plenty catch up on here, if you just click on the Mister Linky button at the bottom of the page, you will see all of the countries, books and blogger names. Please feel free to add your own links, even if they are books you’ve read a few months ago. The more the merrier!

European Union flags outside EU headquarters in Brussels

So my conscience is now telling me it is high time to pay some attention to previously unreviewed countries. I still have that collection of poetry from Malta. I have recently acquired a Latvian book High Tide by Inga Abele. I’ve kept mentioning Miklos Banffy (Hungary) and Javier Marias (Spain). On my ereader, I’ve got mainly German and French authors, so I will leave that aside for the time being.   Above all, I keep meaning to review Romanian authors – and have indeed read quite a few in preparation, but then decided that they weren’t quite right for this project. Maybe I’m being too fussy.

What countries from the EU27 would you like to know more about? What have you read recently which opened your eyes to a whole new culture?

 

 

 

June 2017 Summary

Yes, I know I always say it, so you can join in. Altogether now! ‘Where has June gone?’

It is always my favourite month, a birthday month for me, my younger son and several of my closest friends. But with the heat, the work, the travel, it somehow just sped by… I do, however, have some good books to show for it.

I’ve read 12 books this month, of which: 5 crime fiction, 1 poetry, 4 feel-good books and 2 not-so-feel-good books. 5 were from the library, 4 were review copies and 3 I bought myself (an unusual proportion this time round, I feel, but something to keep track of in the future). 9 were by women writers, 2 by men, and one was an anthology. Uh-oh only 2 books in translation (or the original)! I’ve not reviewed all of these, but have included links where reviews are available.

Crime fiction:

Karen Dionne: The Marsh King’s Daughter – a surprise hit with me, although the subject matter very nearly made me give up on it from the outset

Busted! Arresting Stories from the Beat – eclectic collection of short stories featuring largely US law enforcement professionals

Nicky Wells: Dead Hope – Nicky is a friend of mine in real life and has previously written romance novels featuring rock stars. This is her first thriller, although it does contain a good dose of romantic elements.

Annemarie Neary: The Orphans – a story of dysfunctional families and obsession set in London

Pierre Lemaitre: Three Days and a Life – study of youthful anger and guilt in a small French village

Feel-good:

Elizabeth von Arnim: The Enchanted April

Elizabeth von Arnim: Elizabeth and Her German Garden

Alison Lurie: Real People

Elizabeth Jane Howard: Marking Time (Cazalet 2)

Raymond Antrobus: To Sweeten Bitter – because poetry always makes me feel good, even if it is sad

Other (aka not recommended if you are suffering from depression):

Sarah Pinborough: The Language of Dying  – Slow-building sense of claustrophobia, gradual reveal about a family stretched to breaking point and … the unfairness, the pain, the poignancy of grieving yet with economy of detail. Succint, subtle and devastatingly effective.

Nelly Arcan author photo.

Nelly Arcan: Folle – I wanted to like this one so badly, but, although I appreciated the candour and insight into a troubled mind, I expected it to be much more frenzied and lyrical. It was instead a factual, often cold analysis of unsuitable passion, very frank about sex, but ultimately about a self-centred guy who was definitely not worth the narrator’s time and passion!

And you know what is most shocking? She was younger than me – and, despite her chaotic life and messed-up mental health, wrote 5 novels and has now been dead for 8 years.