Reading Summary for April 2017

This month has been quite busy with reviewing for Crime Fiction Lover, so there has been less diversity. 7 out of 11 books written by men. This certainly does not reflect the views of the website, so I wonder if it shows that there are more books by male authors being published, even in the crime genre, and that you have to deliberately seek out women authors. Additionally, I only read 4 books originally written in other languages and only 2 non-crime books, which is quite a low percentage, even for me.

Crime fiction

Marcus Malte: Les harmoniques – jazz, recent European genocides, murder and slapstick make for an unlikely but virtuoso novel – review to come

Kjell Ola Dahl: Faithless, transl. Don Bartlett – realistic police procedural, a good blend of psychology, humour and action

Chris Whitaker: Tall Oaks – Fargo with more warmth and humanity

E.O. Chirovici: The Book of Mirrors – just how reliable are our memories?

Bogdan Hrib: Patimile doamnei ministru (The Passion of Madame Minister) – political thriller taking place mainly in Copenhagen and Bucharest

James Carol: The Quiet Man – a serial killer who operates remotely with bombs – why would anybody do that? -review to come on Crime Fiction Lover

Philippe Georget: Crimes of Winter, trans;. Steven Rendall – 3rd in the Inspector Sebag series, set in beautiful Perpignan, this one is all about adultery and venial sins, review to come on Crime Fiction Lover

and finally two women writers:

Lucy Atkins: The Night Visitor – academic rivalry and personal ambitions take a murderous and chilling turn

Fiona Cummins: Rattle – bone malformations, kidnapped children, a sinister ‘Slender Man’ reference – suspenseful and highly observant of family life – review to come

 

Non-crime:

Fiona Melrose: Midwinter – or why suffering in secret is not the best solution

Heather O’Neill: The Lonely Hearts Hotel – magical storytelling to make stark reality a bit more bearable

My crime book of the month is Tall Oaks and my non-crime read is Midwinter. I haven’t done much reading for the #EU27Project this month (although the Marcus Malte book could qualify for that, when I write the review), so I want to focus on that in May.

The pictures are not of books this time, but spring landscapes out and about.

February 2017 Reading Round-Up

February might be the shortest month, but my reading rate has been ridiculously low: only 8 books, one of which I didn’t finish. I am clearly spending far too much time reading all the absurd but absorbing news stories! I also have to admit that the first few books I read were not terribly riveting (they are not necessarily in the order below, for the sake of discretion), which made me reluctant to pick them up. As for reviewing… well, you can see just how badly that went.

Crime/Thriller:

dollfuneralKate Hamer: The Doll Funeral

I really wanted to like this one, as I think Kate Hamer is a very talented writer, but on this occasion the beautiful prose could not save the confusion of timelines and strange juxtaposition of supernatural elements. The author takes us into a strange land at the borders of make-believe and reality. There is something of the nature of a fable about this tale, set in ancestral woods, with quite appalling examples of parenting (like the step-parents out of Grimm), children running wild but not in a Lord of the Flies way. Not enough suspense for me to describe it as a thriller.

clearairMechtild Borrmann: To Clear the Air (transl. Aubrey Botsford)

Mrs. Peabody and other bloggers whom I trust have praised this author, but her debut novel did not wow me, although the hypocrisy and claustrophobia of small-town Germany is well described. I liked the investigative team and the interactions between the different members, but the prose and plot felt a little clunky at times. Nothing to make it stand out in my mind.

Claire MacLeary: Cross Purpose

Chris Lloyd: City of Drowned Souls – to be reviewed on CFL

Other:

janet-frameJanet Frame: An Angel at My Table – the complete autobiography – DNF

I found this in the entrails of the library reserves, when I was searching for her novel Faces in the Water. Although her life (and, in particular, her time spent at asylums in New Zealand) was sad and compelling, the very slow and detailed autobiography, which contained little about her most difficult period, was dull as ditchwater. I abandoned about halfway through and will try to find her fiction in future.

#EU27Project:

Ricarda Huch: The Last Summer (transl. Jamie Bulloch)

Herman Koch: The Dinner (transl. Sam Garrett) – Netherlands – review to come

No Men, No Cry – Lithuanian women authors’ collective – review to come

6 out of 8 were women writers, half were books in translation. Undoubtedly, the book of the month was Ricarda Huch’s short but powerful novella about the seductive power of ideology.

October Reading and Plans for November

I’ve just returned from a few weeks of travelling and working, but have also basked in some restful and productive moments. More about that anon, in my next few posts this coming week. [With lots of pictures. Here’s just one to whet your appetite…]

On my way to the south of France, a perfect day for a drive...
On my way to the south of France, a perfect day for a drive…

But for now, let’s see what my reading has been like in this tumultuous and busy month of October. At first, things didn’t go well, and very little reading got done. As for reviewing – foggedaboutit!  But it ended in a warm glow of poetry. And I’ve reached my Goodreads annual target of 140 books, with 2 more months to go, so I will almost certainly get to over 150 now.

Reading for Reviews

  1. Gilly Macmillan: The Perfect Girl – Keen to read this, as I enjoyed the debut novel by this author Burnt Paper Sky. Sadly, this one did not quite live up to the promise of the first one – and my review has still not been written for CFL.
  2. Jeffrey Siger: Santorini Caesars – review to follow on CFL

Reading for Projects/Challenges

Anna Katharina Hahn:  Kürzere Tage (Shorter Days) and Robert Seethaler: Der Trafikant (The Tobacconist) for German Lit Month in November. Was not impressed by one and loved the other, but which is which? You’ll have to wait and see…

Andrea Camilleri: The Age of Doubt – am rereading Camilleri (and reading those books in the series which I missed the first time round) for a feature article on his Montalbano series

Reading for Fun

  1. Henrietta Rose-Innes: Nineveh
  2. Anthony Horowitz: Magpie Murders
  3. Zygmunt Miloszewski: Rage (transl. Antonia Lloyd-Jones)
  4. Sarah Moss: Signs for Lost Children

I hope to write a longer review for Signs for Lost Children and perhaps a shared post for Rage and Magpie Murders. But then, I am still behind on Romain Gary, so my promises are not that reliable at the moment. As for AD Miller: Snowdrops – DNF – cannot bear to read anymore about Western male fantasies about manipulative but sexy Russian women.

Poetry

I was lucky enough to spend five days in the house of a poet and artist, and was bathed in beautiful words and images.

I wrote a couple of poems at this table. Well, wouldn't you?
I wrote a couple of poems at this table. Well, wouldn’t you?

The two volumes below I travelled with myself, but there were plenty of other poetry books there, so I will devote a separate post (or two or three) to that.

  1. Tiphanie Yanique: Wife
  2. Vahni Capildeo: Measures of Expatriation

So 11 books (not counting the additional poetry) and a reasonably balanced month: 4 foreign language books, 2 poetry, 5 crime, 5 by men and 6 by women.

Plans for November include:

  • actually writing some reviews
  • German Literature Month with Caroline and Lizzy – I hope to read at least one more book by Clemens J.  Setz
  • preparing for a master class with Laura Kasischke by reading more of her poetry and her novel Suspicious River
  • keeping up the poetry reading habit, because it works wonders for my peace of mind and my creativity
  • book reviews for Crime Fiction Lover will include: A Suitable Lie by Michael Malone; Rob Sinclair’s Dark Fragments and my favourite annual feature of ‘5 women authors to watch’ for New Talent November
  • reducing even a tiny amount of my greedy reading pile on Netgalley

 

August Reading and Misreading

Nearly forgot to do the monthly round-up of my reading, until I saw Tony’s meticulous accounting of his time. I cannot compete with that, of course. August has been haphazard and I’m frankly surprised I got any reading or reviewing done at all.

Haven't taken down all the books from the loft, so these look elegantly empty still.
Haven’t taken down all the books from the loft, so these look elegantly empty still.

I participated (loosely, very loosely speaking) in two challenges this summer.

Women in Translation Month – failed

Although I tried to sneak in two books I read in July for this category (they also fit in the next category, so it is double cheating), I only truly read one book by a woman writer translated into English this month. And it was a reread.

Clarice Lispector: Near to the Wild Heart

20 Books of Summer – failed

I only got as far as 13 books in total, of which I read two in August.

Stav Sherez: The Devil’s Playground

Wolf Haas: Komm, suesser Tod (same link as above)

Books for Review (but unreviewed  in time thanks to internet circumstances so another failure)

Clare Mackintosh: I See You

Unplanned Books – unreviewed

Arthur Ransome: Swallowdale (reread, picked up at my parents’ house in Romania)

Kate Tempest: The Bricks that Built the Houses (I admire her poetry and couldn’t resist when I saw this featured at the local library)

Only 6 books! I think you will agree that is highly unusual for me. I don’t even have enough to do a ‘best of’.

But there’s always the optimism of September and the fresh page of a new school year.

WP_20160903_08_32_34_Pro

I will be #ReadingRhys together with Jacqui and Eric.

I’ve just finished rereading The Moonstone, that famed ‘first ever detective novel’ and will be featuring it in Classics in September, together with another feature on ‘literary crime’ (I have my own list of obvious suspects there, but any suggestions you might have would be gratefully received).

Catching up with my long-inaccessible and neglected Netgalley shelves. I’ll be working in pairs of ‘recent/older’ titles. First up: Pascal Garnier’s The Eskimo Solution and Essential Poems by 10 American poets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My June in Reading

June has been a funny old month: too busy to engage much in reading, even when I needed it most. So, only 7 books that I read from cover to cover – a record low for me. And, for the first time ever, there were two books I did not finish (in the same month!). But I have made a bit of an inroad into my #20booksofsummer list, although they haven’t been an unalloyed joy so far. So, if you are sitting comfortably, shall we begin?

Doesn't this look like the path to unimaginable riches and adventures?
Doesn’t this look like the path to unimaginable riches and adventures?

The DNF stack

Ingrid Desjours: Les Fauves – for its gender stereotypes and mediocre thrillerish treatment of a subject which could have been very interesting

Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star – with apologies to Naomi Frisby, who sent me this one and whose opinions I value extremely highly. Call me shallow, call me comfort-zone reader, but it just required too much effort to follow. The made-up language was very clever (as a linguist, I appreciated the fact it had certain basic rules). I really admired the author’s inventiveness, and the energy and diversity of the young people in the story. However, I’m just not all that fond of post-apocalyptic fiction, and a combination of flu and migraine made it even harder for me to go through with it. I may still go back to it later, when I am fitter and my brains are in less of a jamble.

The #20booksofsummer pile

In addition to Les Fauves (see above), I read four more of the 20 books of summer. At the rate of 5 a month, I may not finish the challenge by September 5th.

Ariel Gore: Atlas of the Human Heart – self-absorbed, navel-gazing, travelling to find one’s self instead of get to know other people

Michel Bussi: Black Water Lilies – Monet, gardens, three generations of women, convoluted yawn

Emma Cline: The Girls – teenager looking for meaning and a sense of belonging, MFA writing style with glimmers of real style

Alison Umminger: My Favourite Manson Girl – another lost teenager with a dysfunctional family, strong YA voice

Found on a bookshelf

Claire Messud: The Emperor’s Children – slightly pretentious, but a sharp, sarcastic portrayal of ‘intellectual’ New York life

Jean-Claude Izzo: Vivre fatigue (Living wears you out) – oh, boy, is he depressing, but oh, boy, does he fit my current mood!

Review copy

Rebecca Bradley: Made to Be Broken – a friend, but also a talented writer who really knows her police procedures and whose work is getting better and better

Unintentionally, this has been a month of women writers – only two men snuck in. It was also, unusually, an Anglo-French month: one third French, two thirds English-speaking. So not the most varied of months.

Before I leave France, however, I want to make more of an effort to find Romain Gary at the library. And I should leave out some poetry books: poetry is always a wonderful source of comfort and inspiration even in the most insane of moments.

 

May Reading Round-Up

A lot got read this past month, thanks to almost non-existent internet and inability to do my work, admin or writing properly. But not much got reviewed. I’m still optimistic I’ll get around to reviewing most of them, in bunches if necessary!

  1. Patricia Highsmith: The Two Faces of January
  2. Margot Kinberg: B Very Flat
  3. Elena Ferrante: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (transl. Ann Goldstein)
  4. Tim Weaver: What Remains
  5. Olja Savičević Ivančević: Adios, Cowboy (transl. Celia Hawkesworth) – to be reviewed on for Necessary Fiction
  6. Javier Marias: Your Face Tomorrow (transl. Margaret Jull Costa)
  7. Elif Shafak: Black Milk – On Motherhood and Writing (transl. Hande Zapsu)
  8. Frédéric Dard: Bird in a Cage (transl. David Bellos)
  9. Catherine Ryan Howard: Distress Signals
  10. Michael Grothaus: Epiphany Jones – to be reviewed for CFL
  11. Michael Stanley: Deadly Harvest – I love this series set in Botswana; no review, but I did a lovely interview with the author duo on CFL
  12. Elena Ferrante: The Story of the Lost Child (transl. Ann Goldstein)
  13. Elizabeth Smart: The Assumption of the Rogues and Rascals
  14. Peter May: The Fire Maker – to be reviewed for CFL
  15. Jo Nesbo: Blood on the Snow (transl. Neil Smith)
  16. Isabel Huggan: Belonging
  17. Olivier Norek: Code 93
  18. Augusto De Angelis: The Hotel of the Three Roses (transl. Jill Foulston)

9 translated or foreign language fiction, 9 by women writers, no BAME writers. (Although it’s interesting to think that Ferrante,  Ivančević, Elif Shafak, Catherine Ryan Howard, Augusto De Angelis and perhaps Javier Marias would all have been considered ‘the wrong kind of immigrants’ at some point in time –  but hopefully not again in the future.)

 

Summary of Reading April 2016

housesmyrna 1974 maylis allthingscease

 

 

 

 

Over the next few days, I’ll be busy with the Salon du Livre Book Fair in Geneva, rehearsals for my older son and organising a sleepover for my younger one, so I don’t think there will be any time left over for reading. So here is my monthly wrap-up, a bit earlier than usual.

  1. Matt Johnson: Wicked Game
  2. Cathy Ace: The Corpse with the Garnet Face
  3. David Peace: 1974
  4. Paul Kalanithi: When Breath Becomes Air
  5. Tatiana Salem Levy: The House in Smyrna
  6. Lisa Owens: Not Working
  7. Sarah Hilary: Tastes Like Fear
  8. Tammy Cohen: When She Was Bad
  9. CL Taylor: The Missing
  10. Paolo Sorrentino: Youth
  11. Jean-Michel Guenassia: Le Club des incorrigibles optimistes
  12. Elizabeth Brundage: All Things Cease to Appear
  13. Marina Sonkina: Expulsion and Other Stories
  14. Samantha Hayes: In Too Deep – review to appear on CFL
  15. Maylis de Kerangal: Reparer les vivants
  16. Jax Miller: Freedom’s Child
  17. Alain Farah: Ravenscrag
  18. Elena Ferrante: The Story of a New Name
  19. Linda Wagner-Martin: Sylvia Plath: A Biography
  20. David Mitchell: Back Story

A few figures:
For review on CFL: 4
Crime fiction: 10
Women or BAME writers: 15
Translated or foreign language: 6

Cheating a little bit – the first four were read just before April started but after I’d written my March post, so I had to move them to this month. And just for my own accounting, I wanted to see the source of each book this time: 5 review copies from publishers, 6 requested on Netgalley, 6 bought, 3 library loans.

Books donated this month: 17. Books bought (aside from the slip-up at Quais du Polar): 11. At this rate, the book shipment back to the UK is going to be quite massive…

tasteslikefearCrime fiction pick of the month: Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary, with Jax Miller’s book as an Honourable Mention  (I need to review it, but suffice it to say it’s got a memorable voice).

Overall Pick of the Month: I won’t even attempt to select between the stand-out reads of this month. Here are the ones which impressed me most (in addition to the crime fiction picks above): David Peace, Tatiana Salem Levy, Elizabeth Brundage and Maylis de Kerangal. I still owe you reviews of the latter two.

 

 

October Reading Round-Up and Picks of the Month

Strange month of business trips, sleepless nights, work deadlines – all of which tend to spur me on to greater reading heights (anything to avoid having to deal with work). But this time I read rather less than in previous months. As for the writing – forget it, I don’t think I’ve written anything new since the 10th of August.

Back to reading, however. 9 books, of which 7 by men (to counterbalance the feminine July and August). 5 crime novels (arguably, Richard Beard’s biblical thriller could have fit into this category as well), plus one very unusual read out of my comfort zone – namely, a YA dystopian fantasy novel. I even managed to reread one book, an old favourite of mine, Jean Rhys. 3 of the books were translations or in another language. Finally, my trip to Canada did bear fruit, as I read two Canadian writers this month.

Crime fiction:

Gunnar Staalesen: We Shall Inherit the Wind

John Harvey: Cold in Hand

Jeremie Guez: Eyes Full of Empty (to be reviewed on CFL, together with an interview with the author)

Bernard Minier: The Circle (Le Cercle)

Alan Bradley: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (to be reviewed on CFL)

YA fantasy:

wastelandersNicholas Grey: The Wastelanders

Since this is not my usual reading material, I lack the context and the comparisons to be able to say: this is good or this could have been better. I enjoyed the storytelling ability of the author, and it ends on a cliff-hanger, being the first in a trilogy. I believe it is in the Hunger Games mould, featuring children struggling to survive in a ruthless post-apocalyptic society headed by a dictator and inciting them to fight against the ‘monstrous outsiders’. An allegory of ‘otherness’ and abuse of power, written in an accessible, exciting style which is sure to appeal to boys aged 11-14.

Unclassifiable:

Richard Beard: Acts of the Assassins

Women writers:

Heather O’Neill: Lullabies for Little Criminals

mackenzieJean Rhys: After Leaving Mr Mackenzie.

Here’s what I said about it on Goodreads:

I was attracted to its darkness and nihilism as a teenager, but now I can appreciate its understated drama and writing style more. A small masterpiece of descent into hopelessness from which all the current ‘middle-aged woman in a life crisis’ books could benefit.

And here’s an extract which should give you a flavour:

It was the darkness that got you. It was heavy darkness, greasy and compelling. It made walls round you, and shut you in so that you felt you could not breathe. You wanted to beat at the darkness and shriek to be let out. And after a while you got used to it. Of course. And then you stopped believing that there was anything else anywhere.

I want to write a longer feature about Jean Rhys at some point, as she is one of my favourite writers – you know me and my love for the gloomy! I also feel she is still somewhat underrated. I’ve also discovered there are two Jean Rhys biographies to discover (although so much is unknown about her life).

I enjoyed 5 out of my 9 reads very much indeed, and the rest were quite good as well, although I had certain reservations about a couple (as I mentioned in a previous post). My Crime Fiction Pick of the Month is John Harvey’s Cold in Hand, for its unsentimental, fearless yet very moving description of grief. But my top reads are actually the two books by the women writers, both very gripping, realistic and disturbing reads about those living on the edge of what society deems to be ‘nice’ and ‘acceptable’.

 

 

September Reading Round-Up

Yes, I know it’s already October, but this is written in-between bouts of work and travel. The list below shows that I spent far too much time in airports, on planes and in hotel rooms this past month, as I got a lot of reading done but far less reviewing.

16 books, of which 5 ‘imposed’ for reviews. 8 crime fiction or psychological thrillers. The ones marked with an asterisk are ‘review still to come (hopefully, at some point, in the fullness of time)’.

  1. Linda Huber: The Attic Room
  2. Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None
  3. Tessa Hadley: Everything Will Be All Right*
  4. Christos Tsiolkas: Barracuda*
  5. Sophie Divry: Quand le diable sortit de la salle de bain
  6. Michelle Bailat-Jones: Fog Island Mountains
  7. Martha Grimes: The Old Silent
  8. Martha Grimes: Foul Matter
  9. Martha Grimes: The Case Has Altered
  10. Martha Grimes: Belle Ruin  (the four above were read/reread for a feature on Martha Grimes for Crime Fiction Lover’s Classics in September)
  11. Fran Pickering: The Cherry Blossom Murder
  12. David Young: Stasi Child
  13. Shirley Hazzard: People in Glass Houses*
  14. Richard Yates: Disturbing the Peace
  15. Matt Haig: Reasons to Live
  16. Nicholas Grey: The Wastelanders*

Although I said I would switch to more male writers this month, to make up for an all-female author list during the summer holidays, I ended up with 11 books written by women (albeit 4 of them by the same woman) and only 5 by men. I have a little more testosterone planned for October, as well as more books from Netgalley (where my reviewing percentage has plummeted).

fogislandMy crime fiction pick of the month is And Then There Were None (still one to beat, and one of my favourite Christies – not just mine, but also one of the world’s favourite Christies), closely followed by Stasi Child. I had some great contenders for literary favourite of the month, with Tessa Hadley, Shirley Hazzard and Tsiolkas all in impressive form, while Richard Yates is one of my old stalwarts. However, Fog Island Mountains beat them all – it really hooked into my heart and dug itself a quiet little place there.

Reading, Writing, Sauntering About in March

I’ve already admitted that I’ve not managed the TBR Double Dare this month of only reading from the books I already own. It doesn’t mean I won’t try again over the coming months, though!

So what else have I been up to this month?

1) Reading:

I’ve read 12 books this month, of which 6 may be classified as crime fiction, 5 are from the TBR pile (hurrah!), but only 2 translations (initially, I thought three of them were, but one turns out to have been written in English by a Polish author). Must try harder…

I did manage to read two books for Stu’s East European Reading Month Challenge:

Vladimir Lorchenkov: The Good Life Elsewhere (also qualifies for Global Reading Challenge – Moldova – Europe)

A.M. Bakalar: Madame Mephisto -this is the one that tricked me into believing it was a translation, set in Poland and England.

FataleI reviewed two books for Crime Fiction Lover, as different as they could possibly be: the start of a cosy crime series set in Wales, The Case of the Dotty Dowager by Cathy Ace, and the very dark, very despairing Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette.

The other crime or psychological thriller type novels I read this month were: Tom Rob Smith’s The Farm (no review yet), Belinda Bauer’s The Shut Eye, Helen Fitzgerald’s Dead Lovely and Laura Kasischke’s Mind of Winter. Of this genre, the two most memorable (and, in this case, haunting) were Fatale and Mind of Winter.

liarjonesI also read Maggie Hannan’s hugely influential debut volume of poetry Liar, Jones (1995). It’s very different from any poetry I’ve recently read: more muscular, more playful, more deliberately obfuscating and difficult. Not quite my type of poetry, but there was a lot of fun and exploration. There were no efforts to be ‘poetic’, pretty or lyrical. I particularly enjoyed the poems addressed to or about Jones and the Diary of Eleni Altamura (a real historical character, an amazing Greek woman who dressed as a man in order to study painting, but tragically lost her children and thenceforth gave up her art).

Finally, I also read two of the buzzed-about books of 2014: Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves (moving but over-long) and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (not reviewed yet). I wonder if the buzz did them more harm than good in my eyes, as both of them were good pieces of fiction, with passages of very beautiful and perceptive writing, yet somehow failed to wow me overall. Perhaps my expectations had been set too high or perhaps I should stop reading reviews beforehand?

2) Writing

I’ve set an ambitious goal for myself for this year: to write my second novel by September and submit it to an agent (which means it’s got to be better than first draft quality, obviously). However, considering that I only started the first page at the end of February (although I had planned most of it out in my head already, bar the ending), and given my chronic inability to find time to write, I thought I would give myself an achievable goal for the first month: one page a day (about 8000-9000 words). May sound like nothing more than  day’s writing for some of you, but to me it was a mountain to climb. I know I need to up my game, though, in terms of quality and quantity, over the months to come.

Lyon13) Flannelling around

I was going to use the term above, based on the French ‘flâneur’, someone who is walking around aimlessly on the grand boulevards, but the English word actually means something very different. Far be it from me to try and flatter or mislead you! What I mean of course is ‘sauntering’ or ‘gallivanting’ about. This means I had a great time in Lyon, at the Quais du Polar, which is the highlight of my year in crime. I’ve just written a thorough round-up of my first impressions for the Crime Fiction Lover website today, but there’ll be a few posts to follow on this blog, with further details, pictures, lessons learnt and some great quotes.