March 2020 Summary

Miserable. That’s it. The one word summary.

In fact, I should be grateful, because for me it hasn’t been too bad. I am not one of the brave and dedicated frontline key workers that I so much admire and whom we all depend on for what semblance of a normal life we still have: medical staff, pharmacists, supermarket workers, delivery drivers, public transport, utilities providers and of course teachers.

All I had to worry about, for the three weeks until the actual lockdown was my children still going to school (one of them on the train), and me bringing the disease back into the house, with my commute to London and having my office in a very public building which only closed down on the 20th of March. Of course, I also worry about my parents right at the other end of Europe, stuck in the capital city rather than in their house in the countryside (on the other hand, the hospitals are closer and better equipped in Bucharest), both with underlying health conditions and both approaching 80 very soon. Like any recently divorced parent with a very acrimonious financial settlement that is still hugely resented by the ex, I do worry about the possible practical consequences of me falling seriously ill. I may need to get in touch with a solicitor friend of mine and make a will.

Other than that: I’m used to food shortages, to curtailment of liberties, to being essentially under house arrest… it brings back memories of my childhood. Not fond ones, no: I have no ‘stiff upper lip and carry on’ nostalgia. But I know that we survived those times (some less gloriously than others), so I’m hopeful we can survive this. My boys are fortunately old enough to keep themselves occupied whether the school assigns a lot of work or not. We have adopted a new feline member of the family, sweet, elderly Barney, and we are busy trying to get our ‘only child’ Zoe to accept him.

However, my reading and writing have both dwindled considerably. Not only because I am extremely busy with work during the week and feel exhausted all the time. Not only because of the bouts of insomnia which continue to plague me (and probably everybody else at the moment). Almost certainly because I am scrolling helplessly and fruitlessly on my phone for far too long, but also because I find it difficult to concentrate on anything for longer than half an hour. Add to that the fact that WordPress has decided now is the right time to make changes to their writing and formatting of blog posts and a general sense of feeling ‘what’s the point’, and you can understand why I’ve not even updated my blog regularly.

If I look back at March, however, there have been some lovely moments which seem to be as far away now as if we were seeing them through the wrong end of a telescope. On the 1st of March, I was fortunate enough to see the kimono exhibition at the V&A and on the 11th of March the exhibition on the portrayal of pregnancy in art at the Foundling Museum. I also attended an immersive adaptation of The Time Machine on the beautiful premises of the London Library and reviewed the show just a week or so before it shut down. I’d probably have delayed going to see all of these if I hadn’t been jolted by others. Moral of the story: never put off things you enjoy doing because you ‘don’t have time right now’.

The London Book Fair was cancelled, but I had a meeting on the 11th with my fellow Corylus Books founders and we discussed plans for publishing and promoting books this year and the next. It is possibly the worst time to launch a new publishing house and bring out books in translation by authors that nobody has heard of (yet). We also have problems with the actual printing and distribution of physical copies. So, much as I hate having to link to Amazon, this is the only way to find the two books we already have out now. Perhaps later in the year we will be able to attend all those crime festivals and organise all those book launches that we had planned.

Zodiac by Anamaria Ionescu
Living Candles by Teodora Matei

 

Last but not least, I did read eleven books, and most of them have been of the lighter, more escapist variety, with quite a bit of armchair travelling.

Crime fiction:

Will Dean: Black River Tuva Moodyson is back in forlorn Gavrik in the north of Sweden at the height of Midsommar madness to try and find her missing friend. With a full cast of dodgy characters, including snakes, the author proves that the Swedish forests can be creepy regardless of the season.

Graeme Macrae Burnet: The Disappearance of AdÚle Bedeau Set in a sleepy provincial town on the Franco-Swiss border, not far from Strasbourg, this too is a creepy tale of loners, outsiders and personal obsessions.

David Young: Stasi 77 A series that I’ve really enjoyed, but somehow missed reading this particular book. The links to the end of the Second World War and hidden Nazis operating within the East German state were particularly harrowing (and historically accurate, although I wasn’t previously aware of it). Perhaps my favourite of the series thus far.

Murder in Midsummer  A collection of stories set in holiday locations (not always in summer, despite the title). Mostly famous authors, with lesser known stories. As always with such a collection, some of the stories are better than others, but overall a fun book to dip into.

Rebecca Bradley: A Deeper Song  DI Hannah Roberts is back with a bang and a sharp squeal of the brakes. Preoccupied by family problems, she nearly runs over a young man who darts out in front of her car. He is covered in someone else’s blood but cannot tell them anything, as the accident has provoked a temporary (?) amnesia. Soon Hannah herself is in danger and her team need to gather all of their wits and collaborative skills to find her.

Margot Kinberg: A Matter of Motive  A start of a new series by American author Margot Kinberg, featuring rookie murder investigator Patricia Stanley. A man is slumped over the steering wheel of his car, apparently the victim of a heart attack. Or was it? Both family and co-workers seem to have plenty of things to hide, although they keep emphasising what a nice guy Ron Clemons was.

Other:

Debbie Harry: Face It  She does not mince her words, does she? The beautiful, rebellious, cool as anything singer reveals as much as she damn well pleases in this memoir, including her vulnerabilities. Still an icon.

Malorie Blackman: Knife Edge  Second book in the Noughts and Crosses series, which I read to coincide with the TV adaptation. Such an interesting concept, although I did find the writing aimed at a younger audience than me.

Philip Pullman: The Book of Dust  I was smitten with the original trilogy but only got a chance to read this prequel now. An exciting story, even if we know the final outcome (that baby Lyra did end up safely at Jordan College). Above all, I like the rich descriptive, yet never dull style, which offers something for both adults and younger readers.

Tiffany Tsao: The Majesties  The story of a rich Indonesian family of Chinese descent, with a mass murder from the outset and a smidgen of science-fiction added into the mix. A wonderful book – about families, the lies we tell each other and tell ourselves, the differences between perceptions of the Chinese in the east and in the west… and about insects.

David Foenkinos: The Mystery of Henri Pick  An unexpectedly light and humorous offering by Foenkinos, satirizing the pretentiousness of the Parisian literary society. Could a pizza maker who never was seen reading a book truly have written an almost perfect novel? Erudite, charming, delightful.

Meanwhile, if you find my reading concentration anywhere, do let me know, won’t you? As you can see, I have a whole pile of books planned for April!

 

 

 

March 2018 Reading Summary

Another month has whizzed by and there has been quite a lot of crime reading going on, with a few unexpecteds cropping up on my planned list. 13 books, 6 of them by women writers, 6 of them crime, 5 of them foreign language books. All in all, 11 countries were visited in the course of the reading (if we consider Wales a separate country). Only one that I regretted spending time on and one DNF, but since the latter was short stories, I didn’t feel guilty about it at all.

Book igloo from Curious Mind Box.

Stuart Turton: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – ambitious, mind-boggling, unexpected

Stuart Evans: The Caves of Alienation – interesting concept, perhaps a bit long in execution, but enjoyable

Katy Mahood: Entanglement – what-if novel, love story over the years, not my cup of tea

Tom Hanks: Uncommon Type – writes better than I expected (better than Sean Penn, for sure), but the stories are slight and feel like ‘so what’. DNF

Dan Lungu: I am an old Communist Biddy – thoughtful humorous appraisal of post-Communist life, wish I could have translated it

Victor del Arbol: A Million Drops – moving saga of idealogy, betrayals and survival, set in Spain and Soviet Russia. To be reviewed on Necessary Fiction asap.

Ödön von HorvĂĄth: Tales from the Vienna Woods – anything but pretty story of 1920s Vienna, will be taking a closer look at translation on my lbog

Spike Milligan: Puckoon – farce which nowadays doesn’t seem quite so funny (and probably even less so in the 1980s).

Margot Kinberg: Downfall – for fans of academic environments and less violent crime, a rather sad story of young people being let down by private interests

Karin Brynard: Weeping Waters – review coming up on Crime Fiction Lover, but an excellent new series about South Africa, which does not shy away from controversial topics such as race and land ownership

Rebecca Bradley: Fighting Monsters – Hannah is back on form, trying to cope with new boss, new team member and a potential harmful leak within the police force

Iona Whishaw: It Begins in Betrayal – attractive feisty heroine is a retired  WW2 spy, with wholesome Canadian characters and unsavoury European ones – great period piece and fun. Review to come on Crime Fiction Lover.

Hanne Ørstavik: Love – excellent build-up of emotion and dread

So, how has your reading been in March, and what are you looking forward to reading in April?

 

WWWednesday 21 March 2018

First proper day of Spring, apparently, so I thought I would take part once more in what is in fact a weekly (but to me more like monthly) 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:

It’s nice to have friends who write crime fiction, as you have a never-ending supply of books that you want to read. I always make a point of reading the blog posts of Margot Kinberg and Rebecca Bradley, who are keen crime readers as well as writers, so it is an absolute pleasure to delve into their recent releases.

Rebecca Bradley: Fighting Monsters

This is the third book (plus a novella) in the crime series set in Nottingham and featuring DI Hannah Robbins and it’s fair to say that, as the book opens, Hannah has been through the mill. A colleague was killed in action (something she still blames herself for), she herself was wounded, her relationship with an attractive journalist has ended… and now it appears she may have a leak in her own team. How else would gang leader and cop killer Simon Talbot walk away freely and triumphantly after his trial, and in possession of the name of the witness who spoke out against him?

Margot Kinberg: Downfall

This is the fourth novel featuring ex-cop turned professor of criminal justice Joel Williams. In this book Joel is conducting some research with two friends of his into alternatives to prison for young offenders and come across the organisation Second Chance. In one of their schools a young boy died after sneaking out and climbing up a building on a construction site. But if it was merely an unfortunate accident, why is everyone trying so hard to cover it up?

Just read:

Two rather emotional but very different reads, one slim and concise, taking place over the course of one night, one long and rangey, taking place over several decades and countries.

Hanne Ørstavik: Love, transl. Martin Aitken

The story of a single mother and her young son, both of them dreamers, both of them slightly naive and wanting to believe the best of people, both of them doomed to be forever disappointed. Over the course of one cold night, they roam around town, and your sense of foreboding gets worse and worse. A book that broke my heart a little.

Victor Del Arbol: A Million Drops, transl. Lisa Dillman

It’s being marketed as a crime novel, but it is more of a historical saga of betrayal and revenge, Fascism and Communism, in both Spain and the Soviet Union, as seen through the eyes of individuals who lived through those troubled times. The atrocious conditions of Nazino Island in Siberia were so vividly described that I thought it must be fiction, only to discover that this place really did exist.

Next:

I’ll be going to two countries I like very much (despite their -very different – problems) with my next two books: South Africa and Germany.

Karin Brynard: Weeping Waters, transl. Maya Fowler and Isabel Dixon

A young artist and her adopted daughter are brutally murdered on a farm near the Kalahari. But was this just a typical farm attack, or was it something more personal? Townie Inspector Beeslaar has his hands full trying to get his head around this landscape with its tensions, secrets and hostilities.

Ödön von HorvĂĄth: Jugend ohne Gott

I so enjoyed rediscovering HorvĂĄth in the German section of the library, that I already have my eye on reading another book by him, this time a novel about a teacher who watches, horrified, as his students become enamoured with racist and Fascist ideology.

Oh, dear, all the subjects seem rather grim as I write them up here. Clearly I’m not much of a believer in uplifting, feel-good literature, right?

November Reading Round-Up

My reading speed seems to have gone down over the last few months, despite my endless sleepless nights. I seem to start many books and then spending simply ages not quite getting round to finishing them. I have continued reading and writing poetry, but my unofficial NaNoWriMo did not work out. Still, lack of success on the writing front usually means I find refuge in lots of reading, so it’s puzzling that this has not been the case. I have read just ten books (it may seem a lot, but quite a few of them were rather short), but I’ve been even worse when it comes to reviewing. So, with apologies, here are some very succinct reviews in some cases.

Crime fiction and psychological thrillers:

suitablelieMichael J. Malone: A Suitable Lie

Not really a conventional domestic thriller, although it does turn the tables on domestic violence. It is more of a character study and very effective in describing the cycle of hope, obligation, guilt, fear, love, a whole rollercoaster of emotions.

Rob Sinclair: Dark Fragments

 

pasttenseMargot Kinberg: Past Tense

Although the theme of sexual harassment in college is very topical and disturbing, this is a welcome change of pace to the darker, grittier type of crime fiction. A civilised campus novel, with most people able to converse elegantly with each other (although they still lie, or exaggerate or omit things).

Emma Kavanagh: The Missing Hours

Jo Nesbo: Police (transl. Don Bartlett)

I’ve loved some Harry Hole novels (The Redbreast, The Snowman) and been less enthusiastic about others, but he is undeniably a page-turner. I took him spontaneously out of the library to see just how he manages to build that sense of dread, foreboding, suspense. This story was perhaps a little too convoluted for my taste, but every time there was someone alone in a venue, searching for something, and they would then hear a noise, I jumped out of my skin.

Literary fiction:

Sarah Perry: The Essex Serpent

Laura Kasischke: Suspicious River

mrspalfreyElizabeth Taylor: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

I expect nothing less from Elizabeth Taylor than this beautifully observed study of the foibles of human nature, our innate selfishness, the stories we tell ourselves and others to justify our behaviour. It is a humorous and very poignant look at ageing and loneliness. What struck me most was the dissolution of family ties, how little we really come to mean to those whom we have been conditioned to think of as the nearest and dearest. There are many characters, each one instantly recognisable, yet carefully avoiding stereotypes.

Non-fiction:

Antoine Leiris: You Will Not Have My Hate

Between non-fiction and short stories:

Ali Smith: Public Library

My book of the month is You Will Not Have My Hate, for the emotional devastation it wreaked on me. My second choice, which also managed to squeeze a tear or two out of me, is Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont.

So, cheery Christmas reads next? I don’t really like ‘seasonal books’ but I’d better find something less gloomy or else my insomnia will never improve! And that Netgalley list needs to go down as well!

 

 

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 MiƂoszewski 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.

 

 

 

Levels of Gentility in Crime Fiction

You know how quickly I devour crime fiction and that my preference is for the subversive, disturbing and relentlessly noir. However, quite a few my recent reads have been of a gentler persuasion, almost an old-fashioned feel. In descending order of ‘gentility’, may I introduce you to…

BVERYflatMargot Kinberg: B Very Flat

Margot is such a supportive, knowledgeable member of the crime-writing and reading community, plus I have a soft spot for novels with an academic setting, so I’d been planning to get this one for ages. Not easy to order outside the US, but I eventually got my paws on it (and am now waiting to meet Margot in person, so she can sign it for me).

Serena Brinkman is a talented violinist at Tilton University, a small but prestigious college on the East Coast. She truly seems to be the golden girl who has it all – but then death strikes on the night of a major music competition. A former detective, now professor of criminal justice at Tilton University, is asked to investigate the apparently accidental death a little further. We are firmly in Golden Age detective era type of fiction here, although there are all the modern accoutrements of student life nowadays (including PDAs and online gambling). What struck me was how very polite and nice all the characters seem – genteel, in other words (although, obviously, they can’t all be, since one of them at least is a murderer). Even the flawed ones, even when misunderstandings occur.  It’s a book for readers who like a puzzle and a minimum of gore.

BirdCageFrédéric Dard: Bird in a Cage (transl. David Bellos)

Dard was one of the most prolific crime writers in France (and that’s saying something, given that Simenon was also writing there). Best-known for his nearly 180 San-Antonio novels (think a more satirical and realistic Bond), he has also written over 100 standalone novels and shorter series, many of them under various pseudonyms (clearly, the publishers couldn’t keep up with him!).

This is a bittersweet novel with a perfect 1950s setting, which reminded me a little of Pascal Garnier. Albert returns to his old neighbourhood in Paris after his mother’s death (having spent several years in prison) and is captivated by a beautiful woman and her young child, whom he sees eating alone in a restaurant on Christmas Eve. He becomes involved in a very complicated and dubious story with the woman, her husband and the Midnight Mass for Christmas. A clever puzzle and a rather quiet, gentle man who is clearly being manipulated, although we are not quite sure how.

bloodonsnowJo NesbÞ: Blood on the Snow (transl. Neil Smith)

I was struck at once by how similar this novel is to Bird in a Cage in terms of premise and feel (rather than style or plot). A professional fixer (with some moral scruples) is asked to ‘fix’ the wife of his boss, but starts to feel sorry for her. Falls a little in love. This is a much more brutal story, far less ambiguous than Dard, and Olav is not as genteel or well-spoken as Albert, but it is a quieter book, with an old-fashioned atmosphere which we’ve not hitherto experienced with NesbĂž. Bet you weren’t expecting him to come smack-bang in the middle of this post!

AngelisAugusto De Angelis: The Hotel of the Three Roses (transl. Jill Foulston)

Another Pushkin Vertigo release, I had high hopes for this one, set in a boarding-house in Milan in 1919, written in the 1930s and filled to the brim with unreliable characters with a dodgy past. However, I found there were just too many characters, all lying with no compunction and very little concern about plausibility. There were just too many things happening, insufficient clarity and psychological motivation. This was gentility of the cold-nosed, snobbish variety, not even a smidgen of warmth or attempt to make me care about any of the characters. And, as for those creepy china dolls…!

Deadly-Harvest-Vis-6-copy1Michael Stanley: Deadly Harvest

This is not the Botswana of endless cups of Redbush tea and astute yet gentle musings of Alexander McCall Smith. But it remains, nevertheless, a polite, traditional society with respect for rank and the elderly, even though we are dealing with some pretty horrible realities. Under the ‘quaint’ umbrella of traditional African medicine, muti, we find a profoundly disturbing superstition and increasing use of human body parts. As young girls go missing and the communities are too scared to talk, our beloved rotund Detective Kubu supports his feisty new recruit, Samantha Khama, who wants to find out just what is going on. Politics, traditions, family ties, AIDS victims and reactions to HIV-infected children, plus strong characterisation all form a delightful and far more believable alternative narrative of modern Africa. The authors scratch beneath the surface of the beauty, charm and nostalgia that the British Empire still has for Africa, yet carefully avoid making the country or its people the villain of the piece. One of my favourite series set in Africa.

For a more comprehensive review of the book and an interview with the authors, see Crime Fiction Lover.

 

 

The Vitriol of Life Led Offline

From pacapages.com
From pacapages.com

It’s ironic, isn’t it? I often complain that people nowadays are incapable of talking to each other without a device to mediate between them. I despise people who bring their phones wherever they go
 and actually answer them or check messages while they are having lunch or dinner with you. I can happily live without a single glance online while on holiday, surrounded by my physical books, good food, stunning landscapes – with only a minor urge to immortalise that moment in a photograph. I advocate (or should that be nag?) that families should unplug from the internet and spend more time together.

But then our internet and phone connection fails completely and I go mad with rage. My dear online friend, fellow crime lover, academic and author Margot Kinberg wrote a post about this very recently.

The meltdown is not instant, you understand.

The first day, I’m quite relieved to be untraceable. I happily finish a book (or two) guilt-free, write my WIP with relish. The second day, I even take on additional tasks which have been put off for far too long: tidying out wardrobes and the garage. I bake cakes with my sons and try to keep snails as pets in a glass jar. Yes! Quality time!

By the third day, I miss the companionship of Twitter and blogs, but I can just about live with it. And yes, before you ask, it IS different from being offline during a holiday, because it’s not my own decision. It’s being forced upon me, and I have no idea how long it will last, so cannot make plans.

On the fourth day, I start to feel incredibly isolated and frustrated, especially when the calls on my mobile to the internet service provider Numericable prove fruitless. Did I tell you that mobile reception is rubbish in my house, so I have to either hang halfway out the window in the bedroom upstairs, stand in a corner of the garden where my neighbours can hear every word, or be on hold for 20 minutes with outrageous Swiss roaming charges? (We live on the border, and sometimes the Swiss signal is far stronger than the French one).

 

McDonald's to the rescue...
McDonald’s to the rescue…

Yes, yes, first world problems, I can see you roll your eyes just now. I’ve done it myself in the past. I’ve had to remind myself of others who’ve fled home with no belongings, perhaps no families, only their lives and a few memories. I came across a woman in one of the McDonald’s I found refuge in, who gave me a bit of reality check: left penniless after an acrimonious divorce, living in a part of France with high unemployment, she had made her way to this part of the world, in the hope of finding a job in or near Geneva. She was sleeping in her car, having a shower at the swimming pool and applying for jobs online while nursing a cup of coffee for hours at McDo. Life could be worse.

Of course, my parents live happily without a landline, internet or computer. But they are retired, live in the countryside, walk daily to the marketplace to buy their food and newspapers, and spend most of the day in the garden. They also forget to take their mobile with them into the garden, so I seldom can reach them during the day. They don’t even have a proper aerial for their TV, so can only watch one channel, shaky at that.

So, yes, life like that is possible and undoubtedly very peaceful.

I have it neither so good, nor so bad as some others.

I merely have to move a family, a household full of goods, a cat and some broken pieces of myself back to the UK this summer. All I need to do is ensure a smooth handover of schools, orthodontists, doctors, banks, utilities companies
 well, I don’t need to go on about this, you all have experienced a move, and I’ve done it many times before, so I could handle it if I could do my research online and then phone. But I can do neither.

chocolate
If I were like this, maybe I could spread myself all over and please all people…

In the meantime, all the usual end of school year craziness is amplified, because it is the LAST one EVER (I am using my teenage son’s emphatic style), and they also want to have farewell parties and birthday parties and do memorable things which you’d always meant to do, as well as return to all their favourite places in the area to say goodbye. No matter how often I repeat to myself: ‘You can’t make everyone happy. You are not chocolate’, I still fall into the trap of trying, partly because of the guilt about disrupting the children’s life by moving again.

Just to add to the mess, there are a couple of deadlines for writing competitions, debut novels or debut poetry chapbooks which I want to make sure that I don’t miss. Besides, I do also have a day job, even if it’s become nearly invisible of late. I’m supposed to facilitate a few courses in mid-June, but so far have been unable to access the (very large) files, because public WiFi does not like Dropbox and other such sharing platforms. Ironically, one of the courses is on working in virtual teams


In fact, life is full of irony at the moment. I could share such funny stories with you! How I sit in a car outside someone’s house because I know they don’t have a security key on their WiFi (this must be illegal in at least 50 countries). How I buy a cup of coffee (although I don’t really want another one) in a neighbourhood cafĂ© and sit down with a sigh for an action-packed morning of work, only to discover that their own WiFi isn’t working. How I then rush back to McDonald’s, where the lady at the counter already knows I avoid their coffee and prefer a smoothie (why do they no longer provide their classical strawberry milkshake, for heaven’s sake?). I can never stay for more than an hour there, before it gets too busy and noisy at lunchtime, or all day really, as there are construction sites just outside, cleaning staff mopping underneath your feet in the morning, team meetings in the ‘quiet’ corner in the afternoon. I could share with you strategies for switching on/off/on/off even at these public WiFi spots, so that the simplest cut and paste from a Word document to a website only takes five times longer than it should, instead of ten times.

Why don’t you buy some temporary internet access via your mobile phone? Why don’t you use your neighbours’ networks? I’ve been asked all that. The answer is that you awake each day with renewed belief that today is the day when the problem will be fixed. You are not told from the beginning that it will take 3 weeks (or more?). Unless you are my older son, who had his own meltdown about not being able to use his tablet to search for film reviews or cheat sheets for video games. Now he gloomily predicts that internet will never come back until we go to England.

Image courtesy of 247homerescue.co.uk
Image courtesy of 247homerescue.co.uk

I can also write a film script for a farce about how my neighbours felt sorry for me and gave me the key to their house to use their WiFi, but forgot to switch off their alarm. To make things worse, the key was for the cellar door, so I looked doubly sneaky, but luckily, I was spotted trying to smuggle a laptop into the house, rather than out of it. The second time I try this, having been told the alarm is most definitely off now, I discover the key doesn’t actually turn in the lock.

I could also tell you the classic tale of Cinderella after everyone went to the ball. How I sat at home all day waiting for the engineer to come and fix this problem, biting my cuticles, not wanting to start any serious writing for fear of being interrupted, popping out the front door at the sound of every car or even bicycle, only to be stood up like a wallflower.  Of course, it was then reported back to HQ that he did come to our address, but there was no one home and the phone (yes, the one that hasn’t had a dial tone in 3 weeks) was engaged.

Oh, so many potential sources of Mr. Beanish confusions! Being held up at the border in the UK because I have not filled in the right forms for our cat. The French Tax Office sending a Jean Reno in Leon look-alike professional to shoot me for not filling my tax returns in time (which, from this year on, can only be done online). How I will wing it for the workshops, having never seen the slides before that day: ‘Oh, look, and that’s another thing I should be talking about, but I don’t know what it means!’ Last but not least, a domestic noir brief about a wife murdering a husband who not only doesn’t shoulder any of the burden (other than to murmur supportively that he misses watching BBC iPlayer and Netflix), but actually forwards you (via email) the one and only enquiry you get from posting a few sales items on his company intranet, because you have not had much joy with Facebook sales postings even when you could access them daily. Why? It was in French, of course, and one can’t be expected to speak any French after studying it in high school over twenty years ago and living in France for 8 years in total.

Some day in the distant, rosy horizon of a future where all our thoughts can be uploaded instantly and transmitted to whom we like, when we like and only if we like, without depending on any cables or optic fibres or the people who put them in the ground, and without  any ‘oops, wrong button’ moments


Some day, when Numericable company bosses will have died a slow and agonising death, not before paying out a large compensation to all those unhappy customers who have not been able to do their work or live their lives for so many weeks


Some day, when this madness will have passed, when your health and sanity will have returned, when husbands will have been buried and courts will have been clement because you had ample provocation


Some day, this too shall pass and seem hilarious! Until then… ohmmmmm….

Zen
Image from a selection of Zen wallpaper at http://www.ohmymag.com

 

 

A Few Easy Reads

I’ve been reading some rather lengthy and serious books lately, so I thought I would unwind with a few lighter reads. Here are three I read in about a couple of hours each, something for every taste.

WRitingGert Loveday: Writing Is Easy

Delightful and frothy like a French dessert, this is a book for and about writers. There are a couple of deaths within its pages, but it’s not crime fiction. Instead, writers’ workshops and retreats are given the satirical treatment. The lively characterisation  really makes the story here: washed-out novelist Marcus Goddard, who is afraid he will never live up to the success of his first novel; impenetrable modernist writer and performance poet Lilian Bracegirdle; the wannabe writer of hardboiled detective fiction who gets stuck with too many dames; the fitness fanatic who firmly believes it can’t be that hard to write a book in a week; the downtrodden housewife turning to the world of fantasy fiction for comfort; the serial award-winner who still hasn’t managed to find her own voice. Not forgetting resourceful or greedy assistants, a temperamental chef, tremendous egos and past secrets resurfacing to haunt people. A romp of a novel, just the thing to make you laugh out loud at human absurdity.

InawordMargot Kinberg & Martin Edwards (eds.): In a Word, Murder

This is a labour of love: an anthology to commemorate indomitable blogger and crime fiction specialist Maxine Clarke, aka Petrona. All proceeds from the sale of this anthology go to one of Maxine’s favourite charities, the Princess Alice Hospice. It’s a fun collection of murderous short stories in diverse styles, reflecting the diversity of authors included. There is a lot of humour, as well as darker deeds, in this collection, and quite a few of the stories have a literary bent as well: self-publishing becomes a life-saver (literally), book blogging becomes deadly, changing publishers is a dangerous game… and so on.

 

Stella Rimington: The Geneva Trap

GenevaOK, I’ll admit it: I read this one purely for the location, as I live in the Geneva area and thought it would be fun to see if the author had captured the local flavour well. Needless to say, as with any spy thriller, the locations change and also include Marseille, London, plus some godforsaken rural areas in France and England. Stella Rimington was famously the Director General of MI5 for many years, so she knows her stuff and perhaps her work is more authentic than John Le Carre or the recently read ‘I Am Pilgrim’. But oh, how much more boring authenticity is! A lot of surveillance, meetings on park benches, computer analyses… This is the 7th book in the Liz Carlyle series, so perhaps I missed something by not starting with the first, but it just felt like run-of-the-mill spy fiction  to me. There was nothing to lift it above the average. Still, this would work well as a quick airport/airplane read.

 

 

What Got You Hooked on a Life of Crime, Margot Kinberg?

Good morning, everyone, and hope all of you had a good Easter (if you were celebrating) and at least enjoyed a bit of a longer weekend even if you were not! I am delighted to be back with a new feature. As we were discussing Flavia de Luce last week at the web-based Crime Book Club, the brainchild of the delightful and energetic Rebecca Bradley, it suddenly occurred to me:  I would like to find out more about my fellow crime fiction lovers, what got them interested in this genre and what other books they like to read in their ‘spare’ time. So every fortnight or so I will interview one of my online friends and bloggers about their reading preferences.

Margot Kinberg by www.studiocarre.com
Margot Kinberg by http://www.studiocarre.com

I am starting today with someone whom many mystery fans will know, for she is a walking encyclopaedia of crime fiction lore, a mystery author in her own right, an indefatigable blogger and one of the nicest, most supportive people I’ve met online. I give you the one and only: Margot Kinberg.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

It all started innocently enough. Some Sherlock Holmes stories in elementary school (I blame my Language Arts teacher), and a few Nancy Drews. What harm could that do? But then I started reading some other mystery series and I was in trouble. The turning point came when I received some Agatha Christie novels as a gift. After that, there was no hope for me. I don’t think there’s a recovery program for crime fiction addicts… 😉

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I’m actually pretty eclectic. To tell you the truth, it’s probably easier to ask which ones I don’t prefer. I really don’t like reading truly brutal serial-killer novels. There are a few I’ve read that are good, but in general, something really gory  is likely to put me off. The same is true at the other end of the spectrum. I don’t care much for ‘happy, frothy’ kinds of cosy mysteries, particularly if there’s too much emphasis on a romance and not much on the mystery plot. Other than that, I’m usually willing to try a wide variety of crime fiction. 

What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?

That would be Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark. I’m still reflecting on it even a week after I finished reading it. She is one of my favourite authors, and her work always has a profound effect. This one is no different. It’s a novel of psychological suspense as much as it is a crime novel, and explores several other aspects of human life too. Highly recommended.
If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?
 Oh, that is such a difficult question! There is far, far too much crime fiction that I would hate to part with. If forced to, though, I would probably choose Agatha Christie. Her work has inspired me, and she wrote such a diversity of different kinds of stories. But I would have to insist on the entire collection of all of her work, including her novels as Mary Westmacott. And unless I was caught, I’d probably sneak some other books along too, wherever I could hide them.
What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?
Coming up soon is Geoffrey McGeachin’s St. Kilda Blues, the third in his Charlie Berlin series. I’m very much looking forward to reading that. I’m also looking forward to reading Ann Cleeves’ new Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez novels. Oh, and there’s Mari Strachan’s second novel Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers. That’s also on my must-read list. So is Michael Connelly’s The Gods of Guilt (I’m a Connelly fan). There are a lot of others, too, but that’s a partial list anyway.
Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?
I like historical fiction, and in that genre, I always recommend Edward Rutherfurd. James Michener too, for those who haven’t read his work. Kate Grenville’s historical fiction is also terrific. As far as non-fiction goes, I’m a fan of the work of Jonathan Kozol, who for the past forty years has written some brilliant work about education and literacy in the US, and the impact that social class and race have on a child’s chance at educational equity. It’s hard-hitting and eye-opening. I could keep going on, but that’s at least a tiny smattering of what I read outside crime fiction.
Thank you, Margot, for taking part. Quite a few surprising answers there, even though I thought I knew your reading preferences quite well. Hope you all enjoyed this as much as I did! And let me know if you would like to take part in this. I’m a real old Nosey Parker when it comes to finding out what people like to read.