Is This a Slump Which I See Before Me?

A reading slump, I mean? Only a couple of weeks ago, I was blithely crowing to Rebecca Bradley (whose wonderful blog on all things crime fiction related you really should read if you don’t already) that I didn’t know the meaning of the word, that I never encounter reading slumps because reading is such a perfect escape vehicle for me etc. etc. But pride comes before a fall and I realise I may be experiencing some of those ‘slumpish’ symptoms.

I’ve rated the last 6 books I’ve read at just 3 stars (one is actually a two star) and, while this may seem like just a long round of bad picks as I try to get through my Netgalley books, it could also mean that I am harder to please than usual. So here are the books which I damn with faint praise:

secondlifeSJ Watson: Second Life – a thriller by numbers, this theme has been better done elsewhere, and the characterisation (and motivation) of the heroine didn’t quite ring true to me.

Gillian Flynn: The Grownup – hardly a novella, more of a short story; great set-up but finishes too abruptly; not terribly original but written with panache.

Alaux & Balen: Montmartre Mysteries – charming, entertaining, something for wine lovers and Fracophiles, but a bit too short and rushed towards the end, not enough robust secondary characters.

fatesfuriesLauren Groff: Fates and Furies – wanted to like this one so badly (and I did like certain scenes, such as the fevered creative collaboration frenzy at the artist’s colony, for instance), but overall found it uneven and pretentious; I enjoyed the ‘revisiting of events’ from another POV in the second part much better than the first.

astonishmeMaggie Shipstead: Astonish Me – The parts about ballet and the quest for perfection and beauty I loved, but not so much the skipping about in time and fragmented nature of the narrative or the soap opera reveals. Ballet fans will enjoy it, and it was an easy read while suffering from migraine.

Saul Black: The Killing Lessons – really exquisitely written passages of menace and waiting for something to pounce, but the whole serial killer trope was exaggerated to the point where it felt almost like a parody (or was it a post-modern comment on the excesses of the serial killer genre). And a baddy who just refuses to die. It reminded me a little of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘No Country for Old Men’ but mainly in regards to the level of violence.

But I don’t intend this to discourage you from reading the books yourselves. I realised that I was probably in a grumpy reviewing mood when even Eva Dolan – who can do no wrong in my eyes and whose first two books I loved and rated very highly – only got a 4 (maybe 4.5) stars from me for her latest After You Die (my only complaint is that it’s very domestic and contained this time round, while her previous two had a wider social canvas).

So I pity the next author or book who comes within striking distance of my gnashing fangs at the moment. And that’s my point why you can’t trust reviews blindly: because books don’t always find us at the perfect moment, because reading slumps are a reality and everything starts to feel a bit ‘samey’, because we are only human and fallible after all.

From geocaching.com
A Slump, from geocaching.com

February Reading and Challenges Update

So yes, you may have noticed that I have fallen ever so slightly off the TBR Double Dare waggon this month (ahem! five books or so, without counting the ‘official review copies’). I am all for a combination of planning and serendipity, but this is ridiculous! I blame a conspiracy of libraries and reviewers/editors who are far too good at PR. So here is the summary:

Books from the TBR Pile:

Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation

Eva Dolan: Long Way Home

Eva Dolan: Tell No Tales

Tuula Karjalainen: Tove Jansson – Work and Love   [Not reviewed because I want to write a feature on her, the Moomins, The Sculptor’s Daughter. She is one of my favourite writers and a great artist as well.]

avionbussiRead for Reviews:

Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen: Cognac Conspiracies (transl. by Sally Pane)

Pierre Lemaitre: Camille – the last in the Verhoeven trilogy, to be reviewed shortly on CFL

Michel Bussi: After the Crash – coming out next week, to be reviewed on CFL

Book Club Read:

Fred Vargas: The Chalk Circle Man (reread) – not my favourite of the Adamsberg series, as it’s the first one and has a lot of set-up, but still a quirky notch above the rest

Library Impulse Loans:

Karim Miske: Arab Jazz

partttimeindianSherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I don’t know why I don’t read YA literature more often – perhaps because a  lot of it is derivative and too ready to jump onto bandwagons and second-guess the trends. This one rings so true and is heartbreakingly matter-of-fact. It also fulfills one of my North America slots for Global Reading Challenge, as I’d never looked at Native American culture before in a novel. The pain of living ‘between’ cultures, of never being fully accepted in either of them, the unsentimental view of the flaws of each type of lifestyle, yet plenty of humour and tenderness to temper it all: I loved it!

Hubert Mingarelli: La route de Beit Zara

Another book that meets my Global Reading Challenge requirements – this time for Israel/Middle East/Asia. Despite the fact that it’s written by a Frenchman.

Sold to me via word of mouth:

Kate Hamer: The Girl in the Red Coat

Twelve books, of which a third were from the TBR pile, a quarter for professional reviews and only a third snuck in unexpectedly… When I put it like that, it doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Seven of the books were by foreign writers, but six of those were by French writers. So perhaps I am swapping the comfort and familiarity of Anglo writers with Gallic ones?

Seven crime fiction novels. My top crime read of the month (which is linked up to the Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme hosted by Mysteries in Paradise) was undoubtedly Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home. A multi-layered story with real contemporary resonance. But Camille came close for the storytelling momentum, while Arab Jazz was excellent at showing us a less romaticised picture of Paris.

Anyway, next month will bring the huge, huge temptation that is Quais du Polar in Lyon. How can I possibly not impulse buy books and get them signed by so many wonderful authors? Wish me luck…