findingtimetowrite

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Archive for the tag “reading”

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Rebecca Kreisher?

RebeccaKreisher

Today I have the great pleasure of introducing yet another crime fiction lover and blogger to you. Rebecca Kreisher blogs as Ms. Wordopolis , primarily about crime fiction. She is passionate about translated crime and likes to challenge herself by reading books set in countries all over the world. You can also find Rebecca on Twitter.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

While I read and loved Nancy Drew mysteries when I was little, I wasn’t really hooked on the genre until I was much older. Patricial Cornwell, Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton are what hooked me as a twenty-something law student.

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

I tend to gravitate to police procedurals such as those by Arnaldur Indriðason, because I’ve moved on from the PI novels I used to read.

What is the most memorable book you have read recently?

Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland was a recent favorite. It was more of a thriller than I expected, and the social/political commentary was quite good as well.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

I’d bring the Wallander series by Henning Mankell, both because I haven’t finished the series yet and because the books themselves tend to run long.

TBRRebeccaWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

I’ve been catching up with Laura Lippman lately, and I’m looking forward to her newest Hush Hush.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Honestly, I usually recommend crime novels, so this is a difficult question to answer. I like Allegra Goodman and Ann Patchett for smart fiction, and Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration for nonfiction.

 

Thank you, Rebecca, for some great suggestions here. Several authors I’ve been meaning to explore further – like Laura Lippman. But I will stay strong for a month or so longer, for the sake of my TBR Double Dare Challenge!

For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. If you would like to take part, please let me know via the comments or on Twitter – we always love to hear about other people’s criminal passions!

 

Also Read: Dept. of Speculation

OffillJenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation was one of those books that I really expected to like. If I just quote the blurb, you will realise that it sounds exactly like my existentially angsty cup of tea or coffee:

Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all.

And it is, indeed, beautifully written in parts, certainly thought-provoking, with glimpses of universal recognition. It’s the story of a nameless woman (initially narrating in the first person, then gradually distancing herself to become ‘she’ or ‘the wife’), who dreams of becoming a great writer, but becomes domesticated, married, a mother instead. Maternal love surprises her with its intensity, the pain of being a betrayed wife is ferocious (yet much more civilised and philosophical than the raw cry of abandonment of Elena Ferrante’s heroine). There is something of the tragicomic musings of Jewish introspection of the early Woody Allen movies – or is that just the New York style? A layer of wit to make the pain more bearable. It is a very personal and often funny story of how, little by little, we get snowed under by life’s demands. We compromise and dead-end. In the end, life is made up of these small everyday emergencies such as bedbugs, soul-destroying jobs that pay the rent, a colicky baby, trying to keep up with the organised mothers at school. At some point, however, we stop to ask ourselves: is this what I really want? How did I end up like this? So, in many ways, this book is an extended description of mid-life crisis

There are whole passages that I want to underline or keep in my quotations folders:

My plan was to never get married. I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him.

I would give it up for her, everything, the hours alone, the radiant book, the postage stamp in my likeness, but only if she would consent to lie quietly with me until she is eighteen.

Enough already with the terrible hunted eyes of the married people. Did everyone always look this way but she is just now seeing it?

The wife reads about something called ‘the wayward fog’ on the Internet. The one who has the affair becomes enveloped in it. His old life and wife become unbearably irritating. His possible new life seems a shimmering dream… It is during this period that people burn their houses down. At first the flames are beautiful to see. But later when the fog wears off, they come back to find only ashes. ‘What are you reading about?’ the husband asks her from across the room. ‘Weather,’ she tells him.

And yet… and yet…

Much as I admire the courage to experiment in literary fiction (and wish publishers would allow more of these books to reach us readers), I do wonder if a daisy chain or even a string of pearls makes for a satisfying book. I’m probably being too severe here, but, even though there is a narrative arc here, the apparent random clustering of one idea after another just feels slightly lazy to me.

Have you read this book? And what did you make of its style?

 

 

Sometimes You Gotta Bend the Rules…

I’ve had such good intentions for this TBR Double Dare challenge and have a whole pile of books lined up on my night-table, ready to be read (not to mention my tablet).

But something always comes up and sidetracks me. I blame mostly myself and my inability to turn down a book. But the following institutions or websites or people or publishers are also partly responsible. Yes, I’m naming and shaming them. And no, they do not pay me for the publicity, but I feel they deserve it when they go above and beyond the call of duty.

Dolan1) Eva Dolan: Tell No Tales

Eva Dolan was once a fellow reviewer at Crime Fiction Lover and I always enjoyed her book recommendations (or at least hotly debated them with her). She was going to send me her well-received first novel, but somehow publicists got mixed up, it ended up in the wrong place, others were keen to get their paws on it… so I bought it myself on Kindle. When the second one came out, she was adamant that this time I would get a review copy. As time passed and there were still no signs of it being sent to me, Eva took matters into her own capable hands and posted one to me herself, with a lovely note. And, bless her, I haven’t even got around to reading the first one yet! So of course I’m leaving everything else to one side and will be binge-reading her two books these upcoming holidays.

Will I be slightly biased? You bet! But her topics of immigration and grittiness sound just up my street…

Hardisty2) Paul Hardisty: The Abrupt Physics of Dying

Some publishers are just so tireless on behalf of their authors that they carry you along with them on the crest of their enthusiasm. Karen Sullivan is such a woman. Previously a managing editor at Arcadia, where she introduced me to Tore Renberg, Jaume Cabre, Dominique Manotti and Domingo Villar, she left the company in 2014 to set up her own publishing house Orenda, following a strategic review which led to a severely slashed 2015 list of books at Arcadia. With a particular fondness for crime thrillers and literature in translation, Karen is a warm, loud and personable defender of each and every one of her titles, and she is great at building a loyal following of book bloggers and reviewers. She sent me a copy of this book, even though I warned her that I would not be able to participate in a blog tour at this moment in time. I may keep this one to read in April, but it looks like an interesting eco-thriller meets big business meets international action (and frighteningly plausible).

3) Charlotte Otter: Balthasar’s Gift

This book was reviewed over at Smithereen’s blog . This is a blog I’ve enjoyed for a couple of years now and, since the author lives in France too, we’ve exchanged a few personal messages. So I mentioned that it looked interesting and, hey presto, she kindly sent a copy to me, saying that she had got two by accident. Such a lovely gesture – and just goes to show what good friendships we can build online. Another one that I will leave until April/May, though!

Camille4) Pierre Lemaitre: Camille

I’ve reviewed both of Lemaitre’s previous novels and interviewed the author for Crime Fiction Lover, so it’s not surprising that the publisher Quercus automatically sent me the final volume in the trilogy. I am really looking forward to this one. I have a weakness for this author: he always manages to surprise me: a consummate storyteller, despite his rather graphic content. I also really enjoyed his WW1 novel. So this one will be read and reviewed before the end of February.

5) Michel Bussi: After the Crash

Michel Bussi is a huge bestseller in France, but I’d never read any of his books. However, when I heard that he would be published for the first time in English by Orion Books in March, and would I like to take a look at this book and perhaps interview the author, how could I refuse? Strictly speaking, it doesn’t count for my TBR challenge, as it’s a review (i.e. ‘work’) book. And besides, I’m always a fan of translated fiction, especially French fiction, especially crime fiction. I’m currently reading this and will review it by the end of February on Crime Fiction Lover.

6) Netgalley and Book Bloggers:

Yes, I apportion the blame equally: on book bloggers such as Lonesome Reader and Crime Reader Blog for making these books sound so enticing, and on Netgalley for making it so easy to access these latest releases. So now I have added SJ Watson’s Second Life and Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go to my TBR pile…

One of my local libraries.

One of my local libraries.

7) Library:

How dare these village libraries stock so many tempting titles, both in French and in English? They have no business enticing me through their doorway under the pretext of returning the children’s books and then whacking me over the head with irresistible stuff such as Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or Karim Miské’s Arab Jazz. Both books dispell the myth of successful racial and cultural integration (at least on a larger societal level, rather than the individual one) – and they do it with wit, verve and sadness.

 

 

Positives of the Year 2014

No matter how horribilis an annus horribilis is, there is always a mirabilis aspect to it as well. Translation: no year is so bad that it doesn’t have its golden moments. Readers of one of my more self-pitying previous posts will know that 2014 was not that great for me. But what are some of the things that I will remember with pleasure?

BookPile21) Reading: quantity and quality. 189 books, roughly 56200 pages, exploring new horizons, huge diversity in terms of languages, themes and genres. 14 of those got 5 star reads on my Goodreads ticker tape (mostly poetry and non-fiction, oddly enough). Only 1 got one star (Katherine Pancol, in case you’re wondering. Not that my modest opinion will affect her outstanding sales figures!). And although quite a large chunk of the books I read were published after 2000, there was quite a good spread of decades, going back to 1908. I’m not sure how they count the classics published before the 20th century!

2) Poetry: I’ve not only started reading more poetry this year in printed format (full collections rather than the odd poem here and there online), but I’ve also completed a poetry course via Fish Publishing, from which I learnt so much (even if it has temporarily paralysed me a little with self-censorship). I’ve also been much braver about submitting poetry, even if it has tailed off in the last few months of the year. I submitted to 17 literary journals and anthologies (multiple poems in each submission, I hasten to add) and have had a total of 9 poems published. (I’m still awaiting a couple of responses.) One of my poems was also longlisted for a poetry prize, which was an additional boost to morale.

3) Community: It may seem sad, but the online community of writers, readers and bloggers has become more real to me than the people who physically surround me. Call it expat isolation, arrogance or depression, but I choose to put a more positive spin on it. It’s easier to establish common ground and become friends with people who share your passions, even if they are scattered all over the globe, rather than try to pretend common passions with the people with whom you just happen to be living in close proximity. As a global nomad, I’ve become used to the fact that most of my best friends are an email or telephone call away in another country, rather than within easy visiting distance. It simply makes the times we spend together even more precious!

Having said all of the above, I should add that the Geneva Writers’ Group has been a wonderful ‘real’ community of people passionate about literature. Even if I haven’t been able to attend all of their workshops, it is a wonderfully diverse, supportive and inspiring group of people.

Zozo54) My Cat: This year in February, a cat finally came into my life, after about 4 decades of hoping and wishing for one. I say ‘my’ because she is most certainly ‘my girl’, rather than the family cat. She ignores my husband, tolerates my sons and even sometimes plays with them… and adores me. She follows me around everywhere, and is happiest when she is cuddling up to me, kneading the blanket and sucking onto it – I must remind her of her mother. She may be a bit of a wuss when it comes to other cats and dogs in the neighbourhood, but she’s a good climber and outdoorsy type. She is the most gentle, affectionate, obedient cat you can imagine. She has taught me so much about patience, unconditional love, quiet support (with a purr and a rub) and just generally being calm and relaxed.

5) My Boys: Well, you didn’t think I was going to forget about them, did you? They’ve been one of the greatest sources of stress and anxiety this year, but also one of the biggest joys. Intelligent, opinionated, argumentative, droll and completely unsentimental, they make me laugh and cry many, many times… each day! I just hope I won’t mess them up too much on their way to adulthood.

DrawMama

 

Hope you’ve all found plenty of positives in your year, and here’s to wishing you all a very good 2015! Thank you very much for your wonderful company and see you in the New Year.

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Fiction Fan?

A Glaswegian by birth and now back living in a small town just outside the city after a detour to the bright lights (and better employment opportunities) of London. Fiction Fan (who prefers to keep her anonymity) started reading when she was four and anticipates still being as enthusiastic about it when she turns 104. Although her tastes in reading are eclectic, crime is how she ends every day. Clearly, one murder before bedtime puts her in the right frame of mind for sleep! She started reviewing on Amazon about 4 years ago in a tiny way, was then invited onto the Amazon Vine programme – at that time a wonderful source of free books – and became addicted to the whole reviewing thing. You can find her discussing books on her wonderful blog or on Twitter.

Tommy and Tuppence.

Tommy and Tuppence.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

Very traditionally – via Enid Blyton first, especially George and Timmy in the Famous Five books. Then on to Agatha Christie in my teenage years: she has remained one of my all-time favourites, which explains why my cats are called Tommy and Tuppence. My elder sister was, and still is, a voracious reader of British and American crime, so through her I met up with a huge range of authors in my teens, from PD James to Ed McBain and all points between.

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

I wasn’t really aware of it till I started keeping a record of my reading through reviewing, but I’ve discovered my tastes are incredibly insular. Though I read a wide range of authors from different countries, my favourites always tend to be British and often Scottish. I guess it must be because I feel at home within the cultural setting. In older books, I enjoy the classic mystery style with a private detective, but in modern crime my tastes run very much towards police procedurals with strong central characters – Ian Rankin’s Rebus, Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan, Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint.

Untidy bookshelvesWhat is the most memorable book you have read recently?

Ooh, so many! But I’d have to go with Anthony Horowitz’s Moriarty. Brilliantly situated within Holmes’ world, but Horowitz has avoided the problems of characterisation and tone that so often beset ‘continuation’ novels by omitting Holmes and Watson entirely, except by reference. So well written and with a twist that left me gasping and applauding, it has everything – great descriptions of London, excitement, peril, horror and enough humour to keep the tone from becoming too grim. Wonderful stuff – hope he’s hard at work on the next one!  

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

Ah, that would have to be Reginald Hill! I can’t imagine life without Dalziel – for decades I waited eagerly for publication day for each new one to come out, and there’s not one of them that doesn’t stand up to repeated re-readings. I loved seeing how Hill’s style changed and developed over the series, from fairly standard crime novels at the beginning to almost literary novels by the end, often playing with aspects of some of the classic writers. If I had to choose one favourite crime novel of all time, it would be Hill’s On Beulah Height – superbly written, deeply moving and still with a great crime story at its heart. But I’d want to take his Joe Sixsmith books along too – lighter in tone and great fun. Oh, and his standalones, of course…

What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

Peter May’s Runaway, due out in January. I’ve been a long-term fan of May since his China Thrillers days, but his more recent books – The Lewis Trilogy and then Entry Island – have taken his writing to a whole new level, perhaps because he’s writing about his native Scotland and somehow that has given his books a deeper integrity and more of an emotional heart. Runaway is set partly in Glasgow, partly London and is apparently influenced by events in May’s own early life. Can’t wait!

I’m also eagerly awaiting the English translation of Zoran Drvenkar’s You (in January too, I hope, though it’s been put back a couple of times already), having loved his previous very dark Sorry. Just threw that in to prove I do occasionally read non-British authors!

KindleFanficOutside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Ah, my poor friends and blog followers will be heartily tired of me recommending – nay, evangelising about – Patrick Flanery, the most exciting newish literary author on the block, in my opinion. His first book Absolution is set during and in the aftermath of apartheid, seen from the perspective of the white South Africans. It is a brilliant look at how memories are distorted and conflicting, and how hard it is to distinguish whether motives are personal or political. A book that actually made me re-assess my opinion of the time. And his more recent novel, Fallen Land, is a stunning cross between thriller and literary novel, looking at the state of the American psyche in the post 9/11, post global economic crash world. I somewhat arrogantly declared it The Great American Novel for this decade – and I still stand by that! Oh, and it’s also an absolutely enthralling and rather terrifying read.

Otherwise I fear I incessantly recommend whatever new thing has taken my fancy (which happens on average once a week or so), be it factual, fiction, crime or just plain weird… I actually found myself trying to talk people into reading the manga version of Pride and Prejudice not so long ago! Well, an enthusiasm shared is an enthusiasm doubled, isn’t it? Especially when it’s a book…

I see nothing wrong with manga or BD versions of great literature. I’ve read most of my French classics in this way! And I’m completely in agreement with you about ‘On Beulah Height’ being one of the most remarkable of the Reginald Hill (or perhaps even all British crime fiction) canon.

This will be the last of the ‘What Got You Hooked’ series for this year. Thank you so much to all of my participants for their patience, humour and insights. You’ve added many, many authors to my TBR list! For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. If I have enough people willing to take part, I will continue the series in 2015, so please let me know if you would be prepared to answer these questions, don’t be shy!

 

 

Also Read: Quick Reviews

‘I don’t want to review everything I read. At least not all of it, and not some of it in great detail,’ says Simon Savidge (and if you haven’t discovered his fabulous book blog yet, please do yourself a favour and go there). I feel the same – and my decision earlier this autumn/winter to neglect the ‘sense of duty’ has been very liberating for my reading and my enjoyment of books.

However, there are still books which I enjoyed reading in-between more ‘serious’ or ‘heavy’ books – much like I enjoy snacking between meals. I don’t want to review them at length, but they do deserve perhaps a little more than just a listing in the end of month line-up. So here are three I read earlier:

AlisonMercerAlison Mercer: After I Left You

Why has Anna been avoiding her friends from university for the past two decades? What happened to her at Oxford that she has run away from any reunion since? Well, it’s not that difficult to guess. I pretty much sussed out who/what/with whom/how about a third of the way through the book, with only a few of the details still left to figure out. I did enjoy the descriptions of student life (within the same time-frame as my Cambridge experience, so it brought on a wave of nostalgia), but I have the same problem with the friendships depicted here as I did with Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’. Why on earth would friends treat each other like that, betray each other and not tell the truth for decades? Maybe I’ve been lucky to befriend the right kind of people? Or maybe it is a British thing to not be able to have it all out on the spot? The Latin in me is puzzled.

Not a bad read; once you start, you can’t stop easily. Just not particularly memorable. The snack equivalent would be a packet of ready-salted crisps.

HiddenGirlLouise Millar: The Hidden Girl

There is something about how Louise Millar throws her protagonists to the wolves (I’ve noticed this in previous books like ‘The Playdate’): Mr. and Mrs. Everybody find themselves in sticky situations, which creep up on them almost unawares… Millar is a mistress of the gradual chill and the completely unreasonable main characters. Hannah is obsessed with adopting a baby, so much so that she is prepared to uproot herself and her husband from London, take on a large, dilapidated house in a remote Suffolk village, give up her career, and change her whole behaviour in an attempt to pretend her life is picture-postcard perfect. And, of course, it isn’t… in fact, the move to the countryside seems to unravel everything. The marital discord and obsessive personality sounded very true-to-life, and the house did exude some creepiness, but the donkey story brought it dangerously close to a farce. I also didn’t quite buy the second strand (or should that be the main strand?) of the story – but the author very cleverly kept us wondering if it was a ghost story, a cover-up for murder or a conspiracy possibly involving her own family.

Snack: Liquorice all-sorts – you like some bits more than others.

becauseshelovesMark Edwards: Because She Loves Me

When Andrew meets beautiful, edgy Charlie, he is certain his run of bad luck has finally come to an end. But as the two of them embark on a lusty affair, Andrew wonders if his grasp on reality is slipping. Items go missing in his apartment. Somebody appears to be following him. And, one by one, odd, even tragic things seem to befall his friends and loved ones. Andrew is forced to consider the possibility that Charlie may not be quite the lucky break he thought she was.

It was good fun reading it, with many ‘thank goodness it’s not me’ and ‘how can he not see what’s happening?’ moments. It galloped along at quite a pace, with some moments of genuine insight into jealousy and obsession. But it was a tad predictable and the twist at the end felt overly orchestrated.

Snack: Japanese savoury mix – fun to nibble at, but leaves a bit of a Wasabi aftertaste.

And please bear in mind that I do love all of my snacks, even if they do not sustain me on a long-term basis.

 

 

 

Authors I Discovered This Year – And Want to Read for Years to Come

There are too many new-to-me authors that I’ve discovered this year. They’ve all brought me surprise and joy: it would be unfair to rank them. However, the books on the list below did make me want to seek out everything else their authors have ever written.

Lauren Beukes: Broken Monsters (review to follow shortly)

brokenmonsters

Sebastian Fitzek: Therapy

Therapy

William McIlvanney: Laidlaw

Laidlaw

Jung-Myung Lee: The Investigation

Investigation

Koren Zailckas: Mother, Mother

MotherMother

Claire Messud: The Woman Upstairs

WomanUpstairs

Andrew Solomon: Far From the Tree

FarfromTree

Minae Mizumura: A True Novel

TrueNovel

Miriam Toews: All My Puny Sorrows

AllMyPuny

Ann Patchett: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

happymarriage

 

 

 

My Percentage of Foreign Books

A recent flurry of Twitter exchanges made me realise that I’m a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to literature in translation. I’ve read 64 translated books (or in the original French or German) this year, which sounds like a lot. Until you realise that my grand total of all books read is 175, which makes it a proportion of 37%. If I manage to finish all the books I have planned for December as well, I will have read 65 foreign books out of a total of 182, which reduces the percentage even further to 36%. And even that’s from a rather narrow pool: mostly European countries (OK, make that predominantly French and German-speaking writers).

That may not seem too bad, but I am humbled by comparisons to some of my favourite book bloggers. Stu Jallen has read 126 translations out of 130, Tony Malone has 112 out of 120 titles in translation, Jacqui 67 out of 97. I have even less an excuse than most to NOT read foreign books, since I am based in a non-English speaking country. I have access to French and Swiss writers galore, plus so many translations into French from writers who are not easily available in English. I am not even a native English speaker… originally. Although my parents assure me that my Romanian has gone to pot since I moved abroad twenty years ago.

Percentages

So you know I joined the TBR Double Dare Challenge for the first 3 months of 2015 – or possibly longer, until I make some inroads into my toppling piles of books? I thought I’d take a quick sneak peek to see how the translated/foreign percentage fares over the next few months.

On my bookshelves I’ve got about 28 foreign books, plus 4 graphic novels (BD), and 23 in English (by which I mean, of course, also American or Australian or other writers who write in English). On my tablet it is the other way round – almost frighteningly so! 90 in English, 22 in translation. The eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that the numbers don’t quite match up with my previously stated totals, but that’s give or take a few piles or files that are temporarily misplaced. The result is the same: 50 out of 113 are foreign, which makes it 44%. Slightly better, I suppose.

I’ll have to be careful what I borrow from the library from now on… I’ve got Modiano and Daniel Pennac waiting in the wings (i.e. on my night-table). And, who knows, maybe I’ll get an aid parcel of books by Romanian writers from my parents and friends at some point? (That surely doesn’t count against the TBR double dare, if it’s someone else’s initiative?)

 

 

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Friederike Schmöe?

friederikeToday I’ve invited Friederike Schmöe, one of my oldest friends on Twitter, in the hot seat to answer questions about her life of crime. I got to know Friederike in my professional capacity first, as she is a university lecturer and linguist interested in cross-cultural adventures, but then I discovered her crime novels and I’ve been a fan ever since.

She’s written 12 novels featuring gentle yet stubborn academic Katinka Palfy from the University of Bamberg, and 7 featuring feisty ghostwriter Kea Laverde from Munich, as well as several standalones (including a couple for young adults). Despite her productivity and longevity in the German crime fiction landscape, her work has sadly not been translated into English yet. If there are any publishers or translators listening out there, you are really missing out! The world needs more independent, no-nonsense detecting heroines like Kea and Katinka.

Friederike blogs in German but can be found tweeting in both English and German under the handle @123writer.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I’ve been reading detective fiction ever since I was able to read. As a child I was captivated by unsolved riddles. The older I get, the more I feel that crime fiction reflects the distortions in our world. People aren’t saints and everyone makes mistakes or becomes guilty somehow, even though his or her intentions may be honest. In some cases, these distortions end up in tragedy and disaster. This is reality – mirrored in crime fiction.

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

I have a crush on Nordic crime fiction. I love the sound in Scandinavian literature. Don’t know where that soundtrack comes from – maybe it is induced by the overwhelming landscapes up there? Generally I browse the book stores for novels that take me to interesting places I haven’t been to yet, anywhere in the world. I don’t like serial killers and graphic slaughter scenes very much: all those paranoid murderers are overrated in my opinion. I adore stories where ordinary people get involved in something. I also want to laugh from time to time. That’s why I like to choose books with quirky, witty characters. And I appreciate real characters with a background, doubts, hopes, desperation, dreams, humour, not just the usual love affairs and burnout crises.

What is the most memorable book you have read recently?

Hard to pick just one out of so many good ones I’ve devoured lately … Well, let me name Gisa Klönne and her sequel about Hauptkommissarin Judith Krieger, a tough, cool detective chief inspector with pronounced views about life and a deep loneliness in her heart.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

I think I’d take Darja Danzowa, a Russian crime fiction writer. Her humour is just smashing and I might need something to laugh about on that island …

First book featuring Kea Laverde, published in 2009.

First book featuring Kea Laverde, published in 2009.

What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

I have Deon Meyer’s ‘Seven Days’ on my shelf. I’ve been told he is a gorgeous writer. Plus, the book is set in South Africa, where I’ve never been, so it will be a kind of holiday for me.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Biographies, family sagas, short stories, travelogues. I’ve just discovered a most outstanding writer, Nino Haratishvili, who wrote a 1200-page novel about the history of a Georgian family in the 20th century ‘Das achte Leben’ (Eighth Life). Incredibly gripping, though no crime fiction. The genre is not that important to have a thrilling reading experience, as long as you have a book in your hands where you can lose and find yourself in its pages.

Thank you, Friederike, for some very unusual suggestions – hopefully we can find some of them in English, as my Georgian and Russian are non-existent to rusty! If you read German and would like to find out more about Friederike’s books, all of them are available to order online and you can see a list on the author’s website.

For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. If you would like to take part, please let me know via the comments or on Twitter – we always love to hear about other people’s criminal passions!

Fun But Serious: Two Recent Reads

Sometimes humour is the best way to get a serious message across. Here are two books which have made me laugh out loud recently while reading them, but their message echoed and rippled in my mind for quite a while afterwards.

manathelmNina Stibbe: Man at the Helm

The idea that this book could be even semi-autobiographical fills me with horror, although the children seem to be getting on with their lives quite well despite the difficulties. After a privileged early childhood and an acrimonious divorce, nine-year-old Lizzie and her two siblings move with their mother to a village in Leicestershire, where they are made to feel very unwelcome. Their mother is attractive, rather too susceptible to male attention and completely useless around the house. Furious with her ex-husband yet helpless to improve their situation, she soon descends in a chaos of drunken self-pity, depression and bad playwriting. Or, as the author puts it: ‘a menace and a drunk and a playwright’.

This is just one example of the subtle touches underneath the often rather broad comedy: their mother once wrote a play while still at school, which was much praised and even performed for a week by drama students. That had been her one taste of success and she is now trying to recapture that lost dream, ‘now that her life was just a long grey smear with no relief’. So their mother has artistic aspirations and is writing a play based on her life ‘with snippets expanded, exaggerated, explained or remedied’, which she makes the family enact regularly

The children are forced to grow up rather quickly and become self-reliant. When they realise that their parents will never get back together again and that having a bad father is still somehow better than having no father at all and being made wards of court, so they resolve to help their mother find a new husband. This quest, in essence, forms the bulk of the book and leads to all sorts of hilarious and almost implausible situations. Of course, their mother makes her own disastrous mistakes in the process, they become even poorer and need to move out of their house, but there is a semi-happy ending.

I love the breezy, matter-of-fact style in which the narrator tells us about quite bad instances of suffering and neglect, the descriptions of bad housekeeping, haphazard pet ownership, no cooking and disastrous experiments with the washing machine. The scene with the two sisters going to London on their own to get additional anti-depressants for their mother was particularly harrowing, despite the bonus trip to the London Zoo.  The mother’s downward spiral will sound worryingly familiar to anyone who has ever suffered from depression, especially when combined with parenting worries or bad divorces. This felt like the more satirical, less dramatic (and perhaps less deep) version of Claire King’s ‘The Night Rainbow’ (it also shows the difference between rural France and ‘little’ England).

It’s a wonderful recreation of a period in recent history – the 1970s, with spot-on observations and sly asides – yet it has a much older feel to it, an innocence and freedom to roam perhaps better suited to the 1950s. As for the children, their wit and self-sufficiency, their curious mix of worldliness and naivety, reminded me of ‘The Treasure Seekers’ or ‘The Railway Children’. They write letters to all male candidates in the neighbourhood (regardless whether they are married or not) and invite them to visit under various pretexts. This deadpan humour is very charming and stops the story from descending into sentimentality:

Our aim had been that they should have a drink and then have sex in her sitting room and do it enough times until they got engaged and then married. But we’d let him slip through our fingers with bad planning and shoddy execution. And though we agreed Mr Lomax wasn’t the ideal, we evaluated our efforts as if he had been, even though he most definitely hadn’t. It had been a mistake, we agreed, not to have offered any snacks or put on any music, and this might have led to Mr Lomax feeling uncomfortable and probably peckish and if there was one thing I knew for definite about men it was that they cannot perform sex if hungry.

LelivrequifaitaimerFrançoize Boucher: Le livre qui fait aimer les livres (The Book that Will Make You Love Books: Even If You Hate Reading)

This is a graphic book for children (and grown-ups) listing all the advantages of reading, owning and loving books in a fun, irreverent way which will appeal especially to the less avid readers (like my younger son). Some reviewers have found it a bit repetitive and silly, but our views as adults really don’t matter: my children loved it and it’s such a fun idea. It’s full of schoolchildren’s slang, so perhaps it’s funnier in the original French, but it has been translated into English and is available from Walker children’s books.

No need for me to waffle on about it, let me just show you a couple of my favourite pages to give you a flavour:

Books don't make you fat: Mille feuille (literal translation: a thousand  pages/leaves): 1000 calories. 1000 page book: 0 calories.

Books don’t make you fat: Mille feuille (literal translation: a thousand pages/leaves): 1000 calories. 1000 page book: 0 calories.

Books help build your vocabulary. Example: 'Pass the salt' before and after reading.

Books help build your vocabulary. Example: ‘Pass the salt’ before and after reading.

 

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