You bought HOW many books at #HayFestival?

Call it ostrich behaviour or making hay before the financial crisis beckons, but I bought quite a large number of books at the Hay Festival. This is what comes of not having any second-hand bookshops in our local area (most of the ones I bought were second-hand, a bargain at £3 apiece). Of course, that shimmering, glimmering possibility of getting books signed also influenced my new book purchases. And I would have bought more, if the authors would have been available in translation (maybe next year).

The shiny new signed books.

The Bogota 39 panels heavily influenced me and my buying, and opened me up completely to Spanish Language literature (of which I sadly know all too little): Carlos Fonseca, Liliana Colanzi, Laia Jufresa, Lina Meruane and Juan Gabriel Vasquez are all associated with Bogota 39 past or present, while Javier Cercas was already known to me via The Soldiers of Salamis. I was also very impressed with the very candid assessments of contemporary British society via memoir/essays and poetry of Akala and Kayo Chingonyi respectively. I also bought Joanna Walsh’s first novel, although she was not there (yet) to sign it.

The second-hand buys were more impulse buys of authors that I’d previously enjoyed or books that I wanted to try but didn’t feel I could afford the full price.

In the first category, we have:

  • Lauren Beukes: Zoo City – a delicious mash-up of genres, Lauren writes books that always leave me feeling breathless and exhilarated
  • W. G. Sebald: Austerlitz – although his The Emigrants is probably one of my favourite books, I haven’t actually read this one
  • Carol Shields: Mary Swann – I was familiar with her poetry and The Stone Diaries, but this obscure little book is one I’ve never heard of
  • Bohumil Hrabal: The Little Town Where Time Stood Still – less well known than his two short masterpieces Too Loud a Solitude and  Closely Observed Trains, this portrayal of small-town Bohemia between the two world wars certainly promises to be witty, satirical and brilliantly observed by a writer who never bores me
  • Penelope Fitzgerald – a collection of three of her novels, two of my favourites plus one I haven’t read yet: The Bookshop, The Blue Flower and The Gate of Angels.
  • Laura Kasischke: Be Mine – I love Laura as a poet and thought her novel Mind of Winter was very unsettling and atmospheric
  • Mario Vargas Llosa: The Bad Girl – I’ve loved many of his works and disliked others, but I thought it would be fun to compare the older generation of Latin American writers with the younger generation
  • Stevie Smith: Over the Frontier – another novel by a poet (do I detect a theme her?). From the blurb, it sounds quite unlike her usual stuff.

For my children I bought The Three Musketeers (although I hope they will also read it in the original) and Holes by Louis Sachar – an old and a new classic.

As for books I thought I would give a whirl, given the cheap price:

  • Mary Shelley: Frankenstein 1818 text with critical notes. A must after attending the Living Frankenstein event last week.
  • Meg Wolitzer: The Interestings
  • Kent Haruf: Plainsong
  • Radclyffe Hall: The Unlit Lamp
  • Elizabeth von Arnim: Love – I’ve read of course her two best-known books, but this story of an older woman and a younger man has passed me by – plus it’s a Virago Green cover!
  • Alaa Al Aswany: The Yacoubian Building – always comes highly recommended when I ask about Egyptian literature
  • Carlos Ruis Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind – because it features a library, what more could you want?

Now the big question is: how to get these books off the floor and onto my already double-packed shelves?

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…

Book Haul April 2017: Making Up for Lost Time

For the first three months of the year, I was on a book-buying ban, loosely participating in the TBR Double Dog Dare challenge on James Reads Books blog. I didn’t quite get to read that many from my TBR pile because a lot of ARCs came in for review, but by and large I managed to resist book buying temptations, with the exception of Lyon. However, since that was right on the last day of March, I consider that a success!

From griffith.edu.au

Since then, I may have succumbed *a little* to book splurges. I blame FictionFan for not bestowing her Queen of Willpower Medal on me! I blame Tony for sharing a picture on Twitter of his lovely Japanese novellas from Strangers Press, based at Norwich University. You too can get them here: Keshiki – New Voices from Japan. I also blame the other Tony for his rant about the Best Translated Book Award shortlist for ordering Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books). Neither of these two orders have arrived yet, so I can fool myself that there will still be room on the shelves for them.

However, when I tell you that the 25 vintage Penguin classics which I ordered from World of Rare Books are still patiently lined up by the desk, awaiting shelving, you will realise that I may have overdosed on books recently.

But how could I resist a special offer on the Penguins – a surprise bundle of 25 titles? It was mostly the orange fiction series (John Wyndham, Somerset Maugham, Nancy Mitford, Charlotte Bronte), but there were also a few greens (crime fiction by Christianna Brand, Holly Roth and Erle Stanley Gardner) and some unusual finds, such as Passages from Arabia Deserta, a sort of travelogue/anthropological study by Victorian travelling gentleman Charles M. Doughty; a biography of G. K. Chesterton by Maisie Ward;a strange little genre-straddling memoir by Richard Jefferies The Story of My Heart, which looks like a prose poem with wood engravings by Gertrude Hermes; two novels about the British Empire in India by now-forgotten novelist (and former colonel) John Masters; and a book by Peter Wildeblood Against the Law, ‘a first-hand account of what it means to be a homosexual and to be tried in a controversial case and imprisoned’, published in 1955.

The final two books I felt obliged to buy attracted me for different reasons. The first, Rumba Under Fire, edited by Irina Dumitrescu (Punctum Books), was because of its content. It is a collection of essays, poems, prose, interviews about what it means to do ‘art’ in times of crisis. Can art and intellectual work really function as a resistance to power? How do works created during times of extremes of human endurance fit into our theories of knowledge and creativity – can we even attempt to understand them from our privileged and comfy positions? There is quite broad geographical representations here: Bosnia, Romania, Congo, Turkey, Afghanistan, World War 2 concentration camps, India and Pakistan.

The collaboration between poet Derek Walcott and painter Peter Doig Morning, Paramin (Faber & Faber) is pure indulgence. Each double page spread features a poem and a painting, calling out to each other, answering and completing each other. The one to blame here is Melissa Beck, who reviewed this so magnificently on her blog.

While commenting on the review, we connected with Anthony Anaxagorou on Twitter, who asked if we would be interested in reviewing two books of poetry from Outspoken Press, which he promptly sent along. The first is To Sweeten Bitter by Raymond Antrobus, the second Dogtooth by Fran Lock. You can expect to read reviews of both of these very soon.

The Biggest Book Haul Ever?

My days of basking in ample shelf space may be over. I still have to venture into the dark recesses of my loft, but I nevertheless managed to fill in all available gaps buying books as if there were no tomorrow. Att the same time, my boys and I are such a constant fixture at our local library that we think they might start dusting us down together with the furniture.

Since moving back to Britain, I’ve bought 20 books (and I’m not counting the review copies I’ve received). That’s nearly 3 per week on average, but actually works up to more than that, as the first three weeks I was out of action, still travelling and nowhere near a bookshop. So it’s really 20 books in 4 weeks, which (with the most fancy mathematical footwork in the world) still comes to 5 a week. Madness, I tell ye, madness! (But probably to the delight of booksellers in London).

The Visible...
The Visible…

Initially, I thought there were just 14, most of which I bought in Waterstones Piccadilly when I attended a few events there. These include: Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter; The Outrun by Amy Liptrot; How to be Brave by Louise Beech; Breach (Refugee Tales) by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes (Peirene Press), because they are all heart-wrenching and therefore very much suited to my current state of mind. Poetry, of course, because that is not so easy to find abroad: The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy; Bloodaxe Books’ Staying Alive anthology; the winner of the Forward Prize 2016 Vahni Capildeo and the Best First Collection winner Tiphanie Yanique (not so much because they are winners, but because they write about gender and expatriation, two subjects so dear to my heart); and the enigmatic Rosemary Tonks. Finally, to round off my bookshop extravaganza, I also bought Teffi’s Subtly Worded, after so many of my favourite bloggers recommended Teffi.

I’ve always been a Jean Rhys fan and own most of her books in slim Penguin editions from the 1980s, But one can never have too much of a good thing, so, following the #ReadingRhys week, I’ve bought a collected edition of her early novels (Voyage in the Dark, Quartet, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie and Good Morning, Midnight), her letters and a biography by Lilian Pizzichini.

wp_20160922_11_58_20_pro

Then there are the random books I bought off Amazon (I try to limit my purchases there, but occasionally get distracted): a collected edition of some of Margaret Millar’s best novels; Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth, because I love Japan, its food and travelogues in general; Get Published in Literary Magazines by Alison K. Williams because… well, I keep on trying.

Finally, there are the ebooks, which I barely even count anymore, as they are not so ‘visible’. I’ve downloaded two Tana French books (because I’ve only read two of hers and want to try more). I couldn’t resist the offerings of two of my online friends: an escapist love story set in Provence by Patricia Sands and pre-ordering Margot Kinberg’s latest murder mystery.

wp_20160920_13_33_02_richLet’s not forget the ARCs I’ve received, and my book haul is even greater than the one in Lyon earlier this year. I’m behind with reviewing the atmospheric The Legacy of the Bones by Dolores Redondo, so I hope Harper Collins are patient. Thank you to Orenda Books, who sent me Louise Beech’s The Mountain in My Shoe, Michael J. Malone’s A Suitable Lie and Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal (transl. Rosie Hedger), which all look very promising indeed. And, after quite a deep chat with Zygmunt Miłoszewski earlier this week, I can’t wait to read his book Rage, so thank you Midas PR  for providing me with a copy of that!

wp_20160922_20_37_52_proAs Stav Sherez was saying last night at Crime in the Court: Twitter is an expensive habit, as it’s full of book recommendations from people whose opinion you respect. (Yes, I still blame him and Eva Dolan for half of my noirish purchases.)

I dread to add up the exact amount I spent, but if we calculate an (underestimated) average of £5 per book, you realise the full extent of my folly! It takes no great psychologist to realise that there is something deeper at work here beneath my simple and pleasurable book addiction.

 

 

 

Fox Minding the Chicken Coop

There is a saying in Romanian that, if you are a wise farmer, you would not put the fox in charge of minding the chicken coop… However, at the Geneva Writers’ Conference this past weekend, they had no qualms about putting me (and the gentle, lovely Kathy – whom I want to resemble when I grow up) in charge of the bookstore. With predictable consequences!

I came away with quite a respectable book haul, especially since I could also get the authors to sign the books for me then and there. But even minding the bookstore is no guarantee that you’ll get hold of all the books you want, since some authors sold out so quickly, I didn’t have a chance to grab one of their books!

GWGPile

One of the big-name authors at the conference was Tessa Hadley, recent winner of the surprise Windham-Campbell prize. I had already seen Tessa in action at the Morges book festival, and she is the most articulate, inspiring and modest writer you could imagine. This time I bought her latest book The Past, about a family reunion in the house of her childhood memories, and Clever Girl, which in many ways feels like the story of many a gifted woman who allows herself to be weighed down by the crunch of daily responsibilities and the merciless grind of life itself.

An author who writes more in my genre (although she actually straddles multiple genres, and very elegantly too) is Liz Jensen. I had recently read her very chilling (and yet quite funny) book The Uninvited and had to buy the previous one, The Rapture, which is its companion piece (although an entirely distinct story).

I bought two more crime novels, this time by authors who are either part of the Geneva Writers Group or have close links to it. D-L Nelson is American, but has lived most of her life outside the States and writes murder mysteries featuring third-culture kid Annie Young. As a TCK myself (and mother of a TCK), this proved irresistible. Besides, D-L is the kindest, wisest person I know, generous of spirit and indomitable of heart.

The final crime novel Behind Closed Doors is by a Zurich-based writer, Jill Marsh, and takes place there. It’s about ‘poetic justice’: an unethical banker suffocate, a diamond dealers slits his wrists, a disgraced CEO inhales exhaust fumes… a series of apparent suicides by slimey businessmen. But of course, there is more to it than just a sudden attack of conscience…

Maps1The final book I came away with is very expensive but beautiful. Diccon Bewes has written several witty and insightful books about Switzerland and its people, but his latest, Around Switzerland in 80 Maps, is an utterly flawless combination of information and gorgeous old maps or illustrations.

Below are some examples of the illustrations. A lovely souvenir of my time in Switzerland, I think you’ll agree.

Maps2

Maps3

Maps4

Holiday Activities: Going to the Bookshop and Library

Just another day of holidays, but with coughs and flu looming, we didn’t go skiing. Instead, my sons and I (all of us great readers) had to return some books to the library and passed by the only two bookshops in the area. The first one is a standard bookshop, which is a resurrected version of the previous bookshop which had gone bankrupt and was rescued by an association of book lovers. We stopped there to collect a book we had ordered, one that my older son needed for his French classes: a junior edition of the medieval collection of animal stories/fables ‘Le roman de renart’ (roughly translated as: The Novel of the Fox).

Then we passed by the other bookshop, which specialises in BD (bandes dessinées – graphic novels and comic books), where I had acquired my original Max Cabanes adaptation of Manchette’s novel Fatale. I had chatted with Cabanes in Lyon and he told me he was redoing and continuing another Manchette adaptation, so I couldn’t resist asking if they had his latest. They did, so I acquired that – it’s a visual delight, as well as being based upon one of my favourite French noir authors.

While Younger Son was reading another BD cover to cover, Older Son asked me to buy the latest in the series ‘Seuls’, a Franco-Belgian children’s fantasy thriller about children having to cope alone in a world without adults. (Later on we discover the children are all dead.) Twice a winner in the youth category at Angouleme Festival, and winner of the Grand Prize of the Mickey Mouse Journal. The well-intentioned bookseller advised me to read these comic books with my boys, to make sure that they wouldn’t get scared. Then, when my eldest scoffed, claiming proudly that he was a teenager now and not easily scared, we received a zombie poster for him to put up on his wall, as well as a magazine with extracts from all the latest releases.

Haulbookshop

And that is why we love going into real bookshops: we spent a happy morning browsing, discovering new things, making mental notes about what to buy next time, and feeling the love of books and the personalised service of the booksellers. We never leave empty-handed.

tempsglacThe library run also ended with 6 books: 4 BD for the boys (fun holiday reading, as they also have a bit of a TBR pile at home) and 2 books I wasn’t intending to get… secret TBR Triple Dog Dare and all that… Fred Vargas’ Temps Glaciaires (the latest Adamsberg mystery, published in 2015) and Emmanuel Carrere’s  D’autres vies que la mienne (Lives Other Than My Own) – which is a story about grief and loss, but also a kind of memoir of how a narcissist became a more empathetic human being.

 

 

 

 

I Thought I Was Doing So Well…

I haven’t signed up to the TBR Triple Dog challenge this year (which means no purchasing or borrowing new books for 3 months, until you reduce your TBR pile considerably). I love the concept, but I failed rather dismally last year. Secretly, however, I was planning to tag along unofficially. I noticed, with some satisfaction, that in January I managed to read 14 from my TBR list, 2 review books, 1 from the library and 1 that a friend lent me. So I blithely informed James at his end of January update that I had done quite well.

But then books started arriving in the post, my willpower weakened and my clicky finger got activated…

So here is the truth of the matter:

Books I borrowed and had to read quickly before returning:

Christos Tsiolkas: Dead Europe

Ian Rankin: Standing in Another Man’s Grave

Books I got sent by publishers:

Karl Ove Knausgaard: Some Rain Must Fall – Vol. 5 about attending writing school and becoming an adult – I dived into it at once

Peter Gardos: Fever at Dawn – 1945 and Hungarian Miklos has just emerged from Belsen and is recovering in a refuggee camp in Sweden; he is looking for love and writes a letter to 117 Hungarian women from his village.

He Jiahong: Hanging Devils – Set in the mid 1990s, this debut by one of China’s foremost legal experts turned crime fiction author describes a rapidly-changing society.

Succumbed to Netgalley temptation:

Simon Booker: Without Trace  – a miscarriage of justice, a childhood sweetheart released from prison and then her own daughter goes missing – can she trust anyone?

Lisa Owens: Not Working – 20-something stops working to figure out what her purpose in life is

Joanna Cannon: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – 1976 and 2 ten-year-olds decide to uncover the mystery of the missing neighbour

Melissa Harrison: Rain – 4 walks in the English weather – better get used to it again

Ordered thanks to enthusiastic reviews (I name the guilty party too):

Javier Marias: Your Face Tomorrow trilogy (Tony Malone)

Andrew McMillan: Physical (Anthony Anaxagorou) – poetry: hymns to the male body, friendship and love

Rebecca Goss: Her Birth (Anthony Anaxagorou) – poetry: series of poems documenting the short life of a daughter born with a rare and incurable heart condition

Claudia Rankine: Citizen (Naomi Frisby) – I’ve read this but wanted my own copy

Complete Novels of E. Nesbit (Simon Thomas) – because I haven’t read any of her novels for adults

So I acknowledge defeat on the buy/borrow/download front, but will stick to reading more from the TBR pile at least…

 

 

Combining Business with Literary Delights

Who said you cannot combine your work with your secret passion? During my recent business trip, I’ve taken advantage of my location to indulge in some literary pleasures.

BookBusinessTripBook Buying

In Quebec, I discovered local authors and McGill University alumni:
1) Heather O’Neill with her story of twelve-year-old Baby living a precarious existence with her junkie father fleeing from one short-term furnished let to the next, Lullabies for Little Criminals.
2) Alain Farah’s Ravenscrag (translated from French), described as an original blend of retro science fiction and autobiography about resilience, literature as remedy and survival through storytelling.

In London, I could not resist the lure of Waterstone’s Piccadilly (I had no time to go further afield, but spent a happy hour or so in there):
1) Penelope Fitzgerald’s short story collection The Means of Escape – I’ve never read any of her short stories
2) Pascal Garnier: Moon in a Dead Eye because I have difficulty finding his books in France, and it has been mentioned as a favourite among his works by so many fellow bloggers
3) Clarice Lispector: Near to the Wild Heart – one of my favourite authors, or at least she used to be when I last read her twenty years ago – high time to reread!
4) Javier Marias: A Heart So White – high time I explored this author – plus he was translated by Margaret Jull Costa, whom I got to see in my second extravagance on this trip. See below.

Literary Conference

The London Lit Weekend, a little-known and not very widely publicised event (at least not online), took place on the 3rd and 4th of October at King’s Place in London. I attended a fascinating discussion on literary translation with Margaret Jull Costa (prize-winning translator from Portuguese and Spanish) and Ann Goldstein (translator from Italian, including the recent Elena Ferrante tetralogy), chaired by Boris Dralyuk, himself a translator from Russian. I’ll write a separate post about this event, as it was full of quotable insights. But I was too shy to take any pictures.

curiousTheatre

Well, what is London without a visit to the theatre? I couldn’t resist the adaptation of Mark Haddon’s  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which my older son and I both read and enjoyed recently. And yes, he is very envious that I get to see it and he doesn’t!

TBR Alert! Books Bought at Quais du Polar

No, it’s not an April Fools’ Day joke! My TBR pile has augmented by another 12 books. Other than rebuying the graphic version of Manchette’s Fatale (you can find my review of the reissued translation of it on CFL),  I could not stop myself from acquiring books by favourite authors, as well as allowing plenty of room for discovering new names. Luckily, there was a fairly good selection of books in English this year as well, so I didn’t have to read the French language translations for some of them.

Old favourites:

I tend not to read series in order (partly out of necessity – it’s not easy to find the English series at libraries here in France, and I can’t afford to buy all of them), so there’s always one or two I’ve missed. The problem is that I sometimes forget which one I’ve missed – or else the title of the US and UK editions are different (Louise Penny says her publishers have promised that will stop – hurrah!). So here are the books I bought from writers whose work I already know I like:

GodsBeastsDenise Mina: Gods and Beasts – I’ve read her Garnethill and Paddy Meehan series, but only ‘The Red Road’ from the Alex Morrow series. This one takes place before the events in Red Road and won the Theakstons Old Peculier Award in Harrogate in 2013.

 

PennycoverLouise Penny: How the Light Gets In

Book 9 in the series and it’s winter once more in Three Pines. A famous woman has gone missing and Gamache has to battle with hostile forces within his department. I’ve reviewed ‘Dead Cold’ (aka A Fatal Grace) and ‘The Long Way Home’ and was searching for ‘The Beautiful Mystery’, but it was not available from Decitre’s English language section.

Child44Tom Rob Smith: Child 44

I’ll be honest: I hesitated to read this one because I’m a little traumatised reading about brutal repressive regimes (although I’ve had less dramatic immediate experience of it than other close friends). So I read ‘The Farm’ instead (which is very different, more domestic), but this account of a serial killer in the Soviet society where such crime is apparently unthinkable sounds fascinating. The author spoke about the inspiration behind the story: real-life serial killer Chikatilo, probably one of the worst criminals in history (but who committed those crimes two decades later than the events in this book).

Desai1Kishwar Desai: Witness the Night

A combination of influences made me buy this: Margot Kinberg’s spotlight on the book, reading Desai’s second book (on surrogate mothers – wombs for rent in India), seeing her speak so passionately on her panel and direct conversation with the author. As Margot says: ‘There’s always a risk when a novel addresses a social issue that the author may have an agenda that will overshadow the plot, but if it’s done well, a crime novel can be a very effective forum for a discussion of social issues.’ and Desai does just that. This book also won the Costa First Novel Award.

GranotierbookSylvie Granotier: Personne n’en saura rien (No one will know anything)

Sometimes the name is just enough. I’ve read and loved her ‘The Paris Lawyer’ and other books that have not yet been translated into English. I interviewed her at Quais du Polar two years ago and she is so thoughtful and articulate that I’ve succumbed to her charm. I have no idea what this new book is about, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it – even though it is a story of revenge, manipulation and yes, a serial killer.

Always meant to read: 

KhadraYasmina Khadra: Qu’attendent les singes (What are the monkeys waiting for)

A former Algerian army officer who uses his wife’s name to publish some of the most ambitious and topical fiction about the Middle East. Some of his work is available in English, especially his trilogy about Islamic fundamentalism: ‘The Swallows of Kabul’ (about Afghanistan), ‘The Attack’ (Palestine) and ‘The Sirens of Baghdad’ (Iraq). However, his latest book returns to Algeria and features a feisty female detective. Khadra said he is an ardent feminist, and admitted it is very difficult to be a woman in any public position in his native country. Khadra also comes highly recommended by Claire McAlpine at Word by Word.

Debut authors who impressed me at panel discussions:

VongozeroYana Vagner: VongoZero

The title is the name of a lake on the border between Finland and Russia, where a group of survivors of an apocalyptic flu epidemic are travelling for their survival. Dystopian psychological thriller written in installments on Yana’s blog, and incorporating feedback from her readers – very Dickensian.

KillinglessonsSaul Black: The Killing Lessons

Strictly speaking, Saul Black is not a debut author, as it’s the crime genre pseudonym for highly regarded author Glen Duncan. He’s always found it hard to allow himself to be contained by just one genre and has written a werewolf trilogy (which would normally be enough to put me off his writing). However, this book is more typical crime fiction fare, set in Colorado, with shades of McCarthy’s ‘No Country for Old Men’.

QuirosDaniel Quirós: Eté rouge (Red Summer) 

Don Chepe, former guerilla fighter in Nicaragua’s bloody civil war, has retired to the paradise of  a fishing village on the Pacific coast in Costa Rica. But the body of an Argentine woman washes up on the beach one day and he becomes involved in a complex investigation which digs deep into his personal and his country’s history.

Recommendations from blogs or bloggers:

BouysseFranck Bouysse: Grossir le ciel (Magnifying/swelling up the sky)

When Catherine from Le Blog du Polar de Velda recommends a new French writer, I sit up and listen. She has a nose for up-and-coming talent – and quite often a similar taste as myself, on the noirish side. This story of two isolated farms in a remote rural area of France  – and the men who inhabit them – sounds intriguing (especially to me, coming as I do from solid farming stock).

GornellBarry Gornell: The Healing of Luther Grove

Gothic tension in the Highlands, where an urban couple relocate, believing they have found their rural paradise. Barry was interviewed by Crime Fiction Lover as part of New Talent November, so his name seemed familiar, and I approached him at the book signing. When I discovered he was a debut author and this was his first participation at an international crime fiction festival, I just had to find his book in English and get it signed. It also got a glowing review by Eva Dolan on CFL.

Impulse Buy

CrystalPalaceFabrice Bourland: Le diable du Crystal Palace (The Devil of Crystal Palace)

Bourland is a great admirer of Poe and Conan-Doyle and he’s written a series of supernatural thrillers set in London, featuring elegant 1930s detectives Singleton and Trelawney. A couple of them have been translated by Gallic Books. This one hasn’t, but has a personal connotation, as it’s set just a stop or two away from the part of London where I used to live.

You may well argue that I overestimate the number of books I can keep on my shelves (even signed books), and that I still haven’t read all of the books I bought at the previous two editions of the festival. [I am in good company there, as I heard several festivalgoers say the very same thing.]

But you know what? I don’t smoke or gamble, I seldom drink or go out on shopping sprees. A girl’s got to have some vices, right? And books are my vice. What do you think? Have you read any of the above and what did you think of them? Are there any which tantalise your taste buds?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing My Reading Habits (Part 2)

Walk2This continues yesterday’s ruminations about reading: duty versus pleasure, and where blogging/reviewing fits into all of this. How can I hack/cut my own path through the jungle of publishing PR, excited recommendations and friendly requests? How can I bring quality and fun back into reading, rather than making it a race about quantity and deadlines?

I’ve got a list of New School Year Resolutions, but I’ll start with the most obvious remark. I am NOT a professional reviewer. I do not get paid to read, edit, market, hold a writer’s hand or write reviews – not even for the Crime Fiction Lover website. It’s all a labour of love. I may be a fast reader, but I am a slow reviewer. I want my review to be well-balanced, fair, taking into account that different people might find different aspects of the book appealing. I like to think about larger patterns or themes emerging from my reading. I like to compare writers or different cultures. But all of this takes time – at least a couple of hours per review (pure writing time, without counting the reading and researching).

It’s time I cannot afford to spend anymore on blogging. Much as I love reviewing books, participating in challenges, interacting with you all, reading your thoughts and blogs, responding to comments and commenting on your posts, I just cannot sustain this pace whilst also focusing on my family and my day-job. My writing, above all, has suffered in the process. Which is ironic, because the reason I started blogging in the first place was so I could write something everyday, improve my writing skills, track my progress. Call me a wimp, a wuss, a ‘beer glass of reduced volumic capacity’ (good old Romanian saying), but I have days when I am unable to write anything else after I’ve finished a book review. And, since my mission in life is to write poetry and crime fiction (rather than becoming the most revered or feared book reviewer or the blogger with the most followers and freshly pressed articles), it is clear that things need to change.

Walk1Resolutions:

1) Thou shalt not buy, beg or borrow any more books

… until I’ve finished everything I already own. Or give away the books that do not appeal to me. That means: tie up (or otherwise disable) my trigger-happy finger which keeps clicking the ‘buy’ button on online bookshops (and it’s not just Amazon that makes it very easy to order with one click), or the ‘request/send’ button on sites such as Netgalley.

I am very grateful to publishers who send me free books – even more grateful to those who ask me first which ones appeal to me rather than just randomly selecting some of their latest releases. But I also have to be able to say ‘No’, to be clearer about my reading preferences, and not feel obliged to review everything I’ve been sent (when it’s not been requested by me). I also need to give away those ‘scattergun’ books much, much sooner, and stop hoarding them on the ‘off-chance’ that someday I may change my mind. (It can happen, but far too infrequently and I don’t have the space.)

Walk32) Thou can live without all the books you have ever liked or been interested in

I’ve had to move abroad quite a few times and many of my favourite books got left behind in the process. I still have an attic full of books in the UK – and yes, sometimes I would like to re-read a passage which I am sure I have somewhere up there, but on the whole I can live without them or look them up elsewhere. I have to be more selective about keeping only non-negotiable favourites whom I consult all the time, or rare/unusual/hard to find editions. Even if they were expensive.

And I can also learn to wait before reading the ‘latest buzzes’ – which means I am more likely to find them at the library and need not feel guilty about abandoning them half-way through if they do not meet my expectations.

3) Thou shalt have fun with your reading

… and bring serendipity back into the game. Pick up a random title, author, genre on the bookshelf, something just a little beyond your usual line of sight. I want to read lesser known authors, re-read some of my old favourites from school and university, discover little quiet gems instead of the big brash brass-bands of new releases. Not so much for the sake of standing out from the crowd, but because you get to hear all of that hype anyway, in all kinds of media. Do you really need my take on ‘Gone Girl’ when you can read hundreds of reviews elsewhere? There are so many other good books out there deserving a mention, perhaps ones which have been published a while ago but got very little exposure, or authors who have fallen out of favour.

Walk44) Thou shalt be brave and honest

I won’t like all books that I’ve been sent, that I’ve borrowed or bought. A perfectly decent cover, blurb and opening paragraph may suddenly turn into the nightmare read from hell halfway through the book. I know some reviewers who make it a policy to not review a book unless they loved it and can recommend it to others. I can understand this all too well: so much time and effort (blood, sweat, caffeine and tears) has gone into writing and publishing a book that anyone with a writer’s heart will feel uncomfortable criticising it. But if we were all to follow this rule, there would be no warning signs at all on books and we’d soon get very disappointed as a reader, feeling we’d been conned into buying books we simply cannot care about.

This is especially hard when you are reviewing books by people you consider friends (whether you’ve met them in person or only online). I have a huge sense of loyalty to anyone who’s ever been nice to me. When it’s a debut that I did not get on with, I’ve been known to email the author and say: ‘Would you rather I didn’t review it at all, because I can only give it 1-2 stars?’ Because I do believe that debut authors deserve some encouragement, a second chance. I’ve also been known to revert to what the French call the ‘wooden language’ of diplomacy. It’s useful to know perhaps that ‘fast-paced page-turner’ means ‘not much substance’, while ‘an assortment of quirky characters’ usually means ‘far too long cast list of flat stereotypes’.

From now on, I will be honest. Still fair and balanced, still bearing in mind that we are all different and like a huge variety of things, but no more beating around the bush if a book did not appeal to me. Although I may let any author friend know in private rather than posting a scathing review without informing them. And there will be no sarcasm for the sake of showing off my superior critical abilities – when I haven’t even finished writing my first novel!

Walk55) Thou shalt be guided by mood, the colour of the sky and the call of the wild

… but it will not be all aimless wandering. When you reach a certain age, it’s all too easy to turn into a curmudgeon and say ‘I know what I want and like, so that’s what I’ll read’. I want to continue to broaden my reading tastes, in a gentle rather than a forced way. I want to explore new countries, new authors.

So here are some concrete changes you will notice on my blog:

  • I won’t review everything I read, just the books which stand out for me, or which fit into a theme, and probably not more frequently than 1-2 review per week. And that includes the 1-2 books a month which I will be reviewing for other sites.
  • I won’t boast anymore about my latest bookhauls. Although I love hearing what other people are getting and reading, in far too many cases it turns out to be a sort of free book promotion for publishers and authors. I’d rather tweet about that, rather than dedicate a blog post to it.
  • I won’t be jumping on the bandwagon anymore with the latest releases. You may find I review things a couple of years later, after the hoopla has died down. Or talk about authors you’ve only vaguely heard of. Or introduce you to authors I’d like to see translated into English. But rules are made to be broken, so I can’t promise that I won’t fall for a bit of hype from time to time!
  • Post less frequently but more substantially (although I may still succumb to the temptation of pictures of libraries, bookshelves, writers’ studies and interior design). Write more poetry, prose and other posts about writing in general. And sorry, but I cannot stick to a set weekly routine of posts… It will be haphazard as ever, following the call of the wild…

 

Thank you all for your kind tweets and comments on Part 1 of this post yesterday, and for your patience for my long, self-indulgent rant today. It seems that this conundrum resonates with many of you, so please share your own strategies and coping mechanisms.