What I’ll Remember of 2013

In terms of books, of course. I know the year is not quite over, but I am stuck in a huge book, so I don’t think I’ll get to read much else.¬†

I’ve done a summary of my top five crime reads (books published in 2013 and reviewed by me) on the Crime Fiction Lover website. These, however, are more of a motley collection of books I’ve loved, regardless of genre, reviews, whether they were published recently or not. ¬†And they don’t fit neatly into a list of ten.

the harbour of Marseille
The harbour of Marseille (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elizabeth Haynes: Into the Darkest Corner     The most frightening description of OCD, conveyed with a real sense of menace. Psychological shudders guaranteed.

Jean-Claude Izzo: Marseille Trilogy    Just glorious, despite the darkness Рa symphony for the senses.

Birgit Vanderbeke: The Mussel Feast    Damning, elegant prose, as precise as a scalpel, dissecting families and tyranny of all kinds.

Katherine Boo: Behind the Beautiful Forevers      Somewhere between anthropology and fiction lies this utterly moving book, an unflinching look at the everyday life, hopes and horrors in an Indian slum. The book that I wish more than anything I could have written.

Esi Eudgyan: Half Blood Blues     Who cares about accuracy, when it has the most amazing voice and melody, all of the whorls of the best of jazz improvisation?

English: Glasgow Cathedral and Royal Infirmary
English: Glasgow Cathedral and Royal Infirmary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Denise Mina: Garnethill ¬† ¬† ¬† Another book strong on voice and characters, perfectly recreating a Glasgow which I’ve never known but can instantly recognise. Initially depressing but ultimately uplifting.

Karin Fossum: Calling Out for You     Almost elegiac crime fiction, with uncomfortable portrayals of casual racism, the cracks in an almost perfect little society/ This was an eerie and haunting tale, almost like a ghost story.

Ioanna Bourazopoulou: What Lot’s Wife Saw       The most imaginative novel I have read all year, it defies all expectations or genre categories. I felt transposed into an Alice in Wonderland world, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Bangkok
Bangkok (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

John Burdett: Bangkok Eight      Clash of cultures and unsentimental look at the flesh trade in Thailand, this one again has an inimitable voice.

Carlotto: At the End of a Dull Day     If you like your humour as black and brief as an espresso, you will love the tough world of Giorgio Pellegrini. So much more stylish than Tarantino!

Karl Ove Knausgaard: A Man in Love¬† ¬† ¬† Perhaps it’s too soon to add it to the list, as I only read it last week, but it felt to me like an instant classic.

So what strikes me about this list?

1) They are none of them a barrel of laughs, although there are occasional flashes of (rather dark) humour in them.

2) With the exception of the Katherine Boo ethnography, I wouldn’t have expected to be bowled over by any of the above. So keeping an open mind is essential for discovering that next amazing read.

3) There were other books which initially made much more of an impression (the Fireworks Brigade, shall we say), but when I look back on what really stuck with me, what made me think or feel differently as a result of reading them, those are the books I would have to point out.

English: Stockholm panorama. Lithography by Ca...
English: Stockholm panorama. Lithography by Carl Johan Billmark 1868. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4) They are each set in a different city and country: London, Marseille, a dining room in Germany, Mumbai, war-time Paris, Glasgow, Norway, the Dead Sea sometime in the future, Bangkok, Venice and Stockholm.  What can I say? I love to travel!

On that more upbeat note, I’ve discovered many new (to me) writers and series this year. Some of them are gentler, funnier reads, perfect to unwind. Here are a few that I hope to read more of: Louise Penny, Martin Walker, Pierre Lemaitre and Anne Zouroudi.

Fiction Round-Up for June

Guess which genre I prefer?
Guess which genre I prefer?

Another busy and varied month of reading… reflecting, no doubt, the busy-ness in my so-called professional (i.e. non-writing) life. ¬†I am very far behind on my reviewing, but the holidays are starting soon and I hope to catch up with myself. ¬†However, you will soon get a feel for my reading predilection, simply by looking at the colour of the book covers… ¬†Black dominates! (Even more, possibly, if you also add the books I read in Kindle or pdf format).

So here is a list and quick reviews (with possibly more to follow) or links to reviews elsewhere:

1) Nick Taussig: The Distinguised Assassin Рbrutal tale of betrayal and life under dictatorship in Soviet Russia

2) Martin Walker: The Resistance Man – the latest in the utterly enchanting Bruno Courreges series set in present-day rural France

3) And because one Bruno is never enough, I’ve also read the previous book in the series ‘The Devil’s Cave’.

4) Antonin Varenne: Bed of Nails  Рa disturbing tale of suicides that are more than they first appear to be, set in an almost dystopian Paris, like something in a parallel universe; to be reviewed imminently on the Crime Fiction Lover website

5) Bashir Sakhawarz: Maargir the Snake Charmer – poignant vignettes of life in Afghanistan before and after the Russian invasion, as well as the story of two brothers on opposing sides of the ideological struggle

6) Marius Czubaj: 21:37 – the first Polish crime novel that I have ever read, and a promising one it is too, featuring a police profiler called Heinz (‘like the ketchup’), homophobia and corrupt businessmen and church officials.

7) Louise Penny: The Cruellest Month – I enjoyed my first taste of Inspector Gamache so much, I had to try another book in the series, and this was deeper, darker and overall even better than the previous one.

8) Mark Edwards: The Magpies – a new, subtler take on the neighbours from hell scenario, with psychological torture taken to new extremes (but no blood-soaked daggers of American stalker movies)

9) Rachael Lucas: Sealed with a Kiss. ¬†I’ve been following Rachael’s blog about gardening, writing and living with children for nearly 3 years now, so of course I had to get her first book and read it. I am loyal like that. ¬†The author claims to be a little embarrassed to admit that it is chick lit, but it is delightful, funny, fluffy and sweet. ¬†And set on a remote island off the West Coast of Scotland. ¬†Yes, a little predictable, but what’s not to love?

10) Stav Sherez: The Black Monastery. ¬†Another novel by this author ‘A Dark Redemption’ was one of my crime favourites of the year in 2012, so I wanted to read an earlier one of his, especially since the setting is a Greek island. ¬†Not as good as the other novel I read, though. ¬†The crimes are rather horrendous and the atmosphere is too dark to be truly Greek, but Stav cannot write a bad sentence. ¬†Exciting, touching and more than a shade creepy.

11) Kristina Carlson: Mr. Darwin’s Gardener. ¬†All of the hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness and diversity of the quintessential English village is displayed here, in a work that is both philosophical, liberating and oddly funny.

12) Jack Kerouac: On the Road. ¬†A bit like a rich meal: it’s fine in principle, but too much in one go. ¬†A little of it goes a long way. ¬†After a while, it gets repetitive and unbearably misogynistic.

So a good month of reads, with no major disappointments among them. Eight of the 12 books were crime fiction, three of the 12 were translations. ¬†I would probably say that my crime pick of the month is Louise Penny, while my non-crime pick is ‘Mr. Darwin’s Gardener’.

Fiction Pick of the Month April 2013

pick of the month 2013I read nine books in April, but am a little behind on the reviews.  It was an interesting and very varied month: I got introduced to new authors, new countries and new points of view.

Louise Penny: Dead Cold

Stefan Slupetzky: Lemmings Zorn (in German)

Mari Hannah: Deadly Deceit – review coming up on Crimefictionlover.com

Marcus Malte: Garden of Love (in French) – troubling, unusual storytelling, playing with your mind and perception

Esi Edugyan: Half-Blood Blues

Martin Walker: The Crowded Grave – beautiful sense of place and an easy, fun read despite the grim subject matter (ETA separatists, terrorist plots etc.)

S.J. Bolton: Dead Scared – thrilling read about a spate of suicides amongst Cambridge students

Quentin Bates: Chilled to the Bone – review coming up on Crimefictionlover.com

Petros Markaris: Liquidations à la grecque (Greek original, read French translation) Рveridical, if depressing portrayal of a country and a city in profound crisis

Not a single bad read among them, which is unusual. And my pick of the month is the only not-quite-crime-fiction read of them all: ‘Half Blood Blues’, for the self-assured, inimitable voice of a black jazz musician. ¬†The plot was somewhat predictable and yes, there is a bit of a mystery about it, although perhaps not quite enough to call it crime fiction. ¬†It felt very much like ‘Amadeus’ and Salieri’s jealousy of the seemingly effortless genius of his younger rival, Mozart. ¬†It also very nearly won a Booker Prize, which just proves once more that genre distinctions are meaningless and that crime fiction can be very literary, and literary fiction can be very criminal too!