Reading Challenges Update

This is a bit early for a monthly reading update, but I seem to be currently stuck in three books which will take me through right to the end of January and beyond, so it is fair to say that the ten books below are the only ones I read through January.

My only New Year’s resolutions have been my reading challenges. I have signed up for three of them – how have I fared this month? Well, it’s a mixed picture, but I’m not quite ready to give up on my resolutions just yet.

2015global_reading_challengev21) Global Reading Challenge hosted by Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise: I’m making it easy on myself this year and opting for the Easy Level – one book from each of the 7 continents (Africa, Asia, Australasia/Oceania, Europe, North America, South America, plus a new continent – Antarctica or a new threshold you are willing to pass – paranormal, historical, space, sea). The reason I have pulled back a little is because I want to choose really brand-new settings/authors, rather than falling back on my usual French/German/Scandinavian/South African staples. So, although I read 3 French books, 1 Japanese book, 1 German book, 1 Irish and 1 Swedish book and 1 ‘vampirish’ novel this month. I am reluctant to put any of them down as my European component. Because none of that would be new to me. Mission not accomplished. Have to do better next month!

2) January in Japan Challenge hosted by Tony Malone at Tony’s Reading List. Not quite good enough. I only managed to finish one book: Kanae Minato’s Confessions and am still in the midst of reading Natsume Sōseki’s last, unfinished novel Light and Dark. As for my ambition to read the new(ish) translation of Tales of Genji (Royall Tyler version): well, this will have to wait, but will hopefully be my epic undertaking for the year.

tbr-dare-20143) TBR Double Dog Dare  hosted by James at James Reads Books. This is a last-ditch attempt to bring some order into the chaos which is my TBR pile – overflowing on shelves, on the floor and threatening to inundate my laptop and tablet as well. The aim is to not buy any new books until I have made a sizeable dent in my pile of ready and waiting books. With a little cheating. i.e. borrowing from libraries just before the holidays and last minute purchasing of books in 2014, I managed to do quite well with this challenge – victory!

The three library books I borrowed were all in French, so they don’t count, because it’s like work (improving my vocabulary, making the most of my current location etc. etc.) They were:

  • Patrick Modiano: L’Herbe des nuits

Given the blurb on the back, I was expecting more of a crime fiction type mystery, but it’s the usual Modiano fare about the reliability of memory, how well we really know people, trying to recapture the past and whether nostalgia really lives up to its name.

  • Jeanne Desaubry: Poubelle’s Girls

poubelles-girls-jeanne-desaubyA touching Thelma and Louise type story of two women living on the margins of French society and the unlikely friendship which arises between them. A depressingly realistic story of the poor and downtrodden, but also quite funny, with fascinating, well-rounded characters and juicy dialogue.

  • Daniel Pennac: Comme un roman

An essay about the joys of reading and how schools, parents, teachers and book snobs are in danger of killing off the joys of reading for young people. Contains the famous Ten Comandments of Reading (or the Rights of the Reader)

1. Le droit de ne pas lire. The right to not read.
2. Le droit de sauter des pages. The right to skip pages
3. Le droit de ne pas finir un livre. The right to not finish a book.
4. Le droit de relire. The right to reread.
5. Le droit de lire n’importe quoi. The right to read whatever you please.
6. Le droit au bovarysme (maladie textuellement transmissible). The right to Bovaryism (textually transmitted disease).
7. Le droit de lire n’importe où. The right to read wherever you please.
8. Le droit de grappiller. The right to dip into books.
9. Le droit de lire à haute voix. The right to read out loud.
10. Le droit de se taire. The right to shut up.

The other books have all been from my existing shelves and most of them have been reviewed elsewhere:

  • Tana French: The Likeness – bought second-hand last year . My first, but certainly not my last Tana French book. Although the plot did seem implausible in places, I really enjoyed the engaging writing, poetic at times, and the genuine sadness of the failure of any idealistic community.
  • Lynn Shepherd: The Pierced Heart  – ebook sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review (having reviewed a previous book of hers). The vampire story for those who do not like vampire stories (which I don’t).
  • Jonas Karlsson: The Room  – Netgalley ebook sent by publisher way back in November. A perfect modern fable about corporate life and the death of the imagination.
  • Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train – downloaded from Netgalley several months ago. The life of others always seems more attractive when we are making a mess of our own… and when we see them from a distance. A psychological thriller full of unreliable narrators and domestic claustrophobia.
  • girlwhowasntFerdinand von Schirach: The Girl Who Wasn’t There – copy sent by publisher for review on CFL. Not really a crime novel, more of a ‘coming of age’ story, plus a courtroom drama debating issues of justice, art, trial by media and much more – beautifully written.

The final book I read this month was Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, which I bought in the last few weeks of 2014 following the review by Jacqui. I had previously read the reviews by Tony and Bibliobio, but kept putting it off as far too depressing a subject. Then Jacqui gave me the final nudge. A very emotional read, engaging all your senses – abandon all rationality ye who enter this maelstrom! Will review in more depth shortly.   



Crime Pick of the Month: September

September was a much slower reading month for me than August.  I was travelling most of the time on business and, although hotel rooms are conducive to reading (especially when you don’t know anyone in that location), I was so tired I would fall asleep after just a few pages.  I don’t want to pre-empt the book reviews I am going to write soon for some of these books, so I will just put TBR (to be reviewed) after the titles and one brief reaction.  As usual, if you do like crime fiction, thanks to the wonderful Mysteries in Paradise you can see what other people have been reading and recommending this past month.

I’ve detected a bit of a French theme in my reading.  Not only have I been trying to choose my favourite Maigret novels amongst Simenon’s tremendous output, but I have also engaged with other novels by French writers or set in France.  And there is a very ‘noir’ feel to all of them, whether they are classed as crime fiction or not.

1)      Pascal Garnier: The Panda Theory  – TBR – disquieting

2)      Pascal Garnier: How’s the Pain  -TBR – my top pick of the month – on general release very soon

3)      Veronique Olmi: Beside the Sea. This book has shaken me to the very core: a very powerful book. Do NOT read when you are depressed!  The story is predictable, inevitable, yet still shocking and heartbreaking. You suffer alongside the children and the mother (or maybe even more so when you are a mother yourself).  The language is almost child-like in its simplicity, yet strangely lyrical.  It feels like an Ancient Greek tragedy.  Here is an interview with the  translator, which I found compelling.

4)      Adrian Magson: Death in the Marais  -TBR – set-up for a new crime series taking place in 1960s France

5)      Adrian Magson: Death on the Rive Nord  -TBR – 2nd in the series, dealing with themes such as Algerian independence and immigrants in the North of France

Then I went back to the UK (both physically and in my reading):

6)      David Mark: The Dark Winter – Hull as I have never seen it portrayed before, gentle (yet stubborn)  giant of a detective (happily married, for once), and a huge ethical dilemma of a storyline – great read!  Again, the first in a series, which promises to be a good one.

7)      Lucy Dawson: Little Sister  -TBR – not sure if this qualifies as a thriller, but it is a fast-paced read nevertheless

8)      PD James: Death Comes to Pemberley.  Sadly, for someone who is a fan of both PD James and of Jane Austen, this was a bit of a disappointment.  The Regency period is lovingly recreated, but the mystery and overall atmosphere are less convincing.

9)      John Burnside: The Locust Room.  Strange book, this: despite some superficial thriller elements to it, it is actually a meditation on male desire for power, on the ability to form relationships, on identity and the family.  Ultimately, it seems to me that the protagonist opts for the easy way out: the ivory tower.  I found it hard going in parts and am not quite sure if it was a rewarding read.  Parts of it were excellent and thought-provoking, though.

10)  Nicci French: Blue Monday.  Nicci French (or should I say Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) are finally doing a series and the main characters are a copper with the faux-Scandinavian name of Karlsson – Sean is half-Swedish, it should be pointed out – and a psychotherapist with the rather overtly Freudian name of Frieda Klein.  Aside from these rather unlikely names, I enjoyed the novel, although I will probably enjoy the next ones in the series even more (this first one required a bit of a setting of the scene and establishing of the characters, which did at times slow down the narrative pace a little bit).  However, Nicci French has a compulsively readable style: it just slides down your throat so nicely, like a well-loved whiskey, and you find yourself turning another page, just one more…

Fiction Pick for August

The bad news is: I have done no editing whatsoever on my novel and very little new writing during the summer.  The good news is: I have read lots of books (despite my husband’s hogging of the Kindle, where I had many more stored). Which does mean a lot of reviews that I need to catch up on.  For the time being, here is a simple list of what I read this August, plus my top pick for the month, to be aggregated thanks to Mysteries in Paradise‘s efforts. Apologies, not all of my reads were crime fiction.

1. Simenon: Les nouvelles enquêtes de Maigret – for the Classics in September feature on Crime Fiction Lover website

2. David Foster Wallace: Infinite Jest – made it about halfway, not the best beach reading, more on that later

3. Alison Bruce: The Siren – second in the Cambridge crime series, loved the first book even more though

4. Cristian Mihai: Jazz – author interview coming up on my blog shortly

5. J.A. Schneider – Embryo – medical thriller

6. Ben Hatch: Are We Nearly There Yet? – pains and joys of travelling with children, but also a touching family history

7. Kate Hoyland: Ghosts of Geneva: Mary Shelley and the Animatron

8. David Dickinson: Mycroft Holmes and the Murder at the Diogenes Club – one-sitting read, between a short story and a novella

9. Anne Brontë: Agnes Grey – the only book I hadn’t read from that family

10. Leighton Gage: Blood of the Wicked – murder and corruption in Brazil

11. Emily Shaffer: That Time of the Month – light and frothy, sweet as pie

12. Kathleen McCaul: Grave Secrets in Goa

13. Chris Culver: The Abbey

14. Donato Carvisi: The Lost Girls of Rome (these last three are all going to get reviewed sooner rather than later, hopefully within a week or so – see what I mean about falling behind?)

And my top pick is Leighton Gage: Blood of the Wicked.  I am a Brazil fan anyway (should that be a Brazil nut?) and I found the background and local colour very well done, although profoundly unsettling.  I will definitely read more by this author.