Book Buys, Word of Mouth and International Girls’ Day

Restless seeking to find stability, worthless seeking to fill sense of self, call it evasion, elopement or ostrich flight syndrome… the book buying spree is ongoing. But all of¬†the books I bought below come from personal recommendations, mainly via social media.

A trio of blue
A trio of blue

After¬†posting a review¬†about Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun, dear blogger friend Susan Osborne recommended Kathleen Jamie’s nature essays, while Dorothy Nimmo and Steve Erickson were mentioned with some admiration on Twitter. Dorothy Nimmo apparently spent the 1960s as a ‘trailing spouse’ in Geneva, and her intriguingly succinct bio¬† says: ‘DN was an actress for ten years, a wife-and-mother for 25. In 1980 she started to write; in 1989 she ran away from home.’

Monochrome happiness
Monochrome happiness

My Canadian friend and¬†fellow book fanatic¬†Sylvie ¬†sent me the small volume Lire la rue, marcher le po√®me (Read the street, walk the poem), a series of short essays and ‘provocations’, workshop notes¬†and samples of written¬†work¬†to inspire teachers to use poetry in the classroom. Meanwhile, the indefatigable Daniela Petracco of Europa Editions has sent me the proof copy of Saleem Haddad’s moving novel about growing up queer in an Arab country.

Not a girl in sight in the title, but there may be one in the text...
Not a girl in sight in the title, but there may be one in the text…

This one has a more complicated lead-in. When Sarah Savitt (then working at Faber) visited the Geneva Writers’ Group in 2015 and gave me some feedback on my WIP, she was very excited about a book which she was about to launch, Kate Hamer’s The Girl in the Red Coat. I was initially somewhat sceptical, having overdosed on books with ‘girls’ in their title, but when I read it, I thought there was a very different and unique voice at work there. Nearly two years later, my novel is nowhere near completion (sorry, Sarah!), but Kate Hamer has written a second one, which will be released in February 2017. When Sophie Portas from Faber asked who wanted an advance copy, I knew I had to request it, especially since it appears to once again feature a young girl’s view on life.

Speaking of which,¬†today is the fifth International Day of the Girl, so here’s to all the wonderful creatures and future generations of women out there! May your way be much smoother than the previous generations’. Here’s a poem by Phoebe Stuckes written just for you.

Let us build bonfires of those unanswered prayers.
Let us learn how to leave with clean and empty hearts
Let us escape these attics still mad, still drunk, still raving
Let us vacate these badly lit odd little towns
Let us want none of what anchored our mothers
Let us never evolve to be good or beautiful
Let us spit and snarl and rattle the hatches
Let us never be conquered
Let us no longer keep keys in our knuckles
Let us run into the streets hungry, fervent, ablaze.

You
Are a mighty thing
A captive animal, woken with a taste for blood.
Feed it,

You Amazon, you Gloria, you Swiss army knife of a woman.

International Day of the Girl banner from UNICEF, Haiti
International Day of the Girl banner from UNICEF, Haiti

 

 

 

What Got You Hooked on a Life of Crime, Stephanie Rothwell?

It’s Monday, the start of a great week for all, I hope, and time to introduce another member of our virtual crime fiction book club. Stephanie Rothwell is an avid and discerning crime fiction reader, and a big fan of long-running series. I convinced her to answer a few questions about her reading pursuits and give us some ideas for our already groaning TBR lists!

StephSteph, how did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I started reading crime fiction when I was a child. Enid Blyton, especially the Adventure Series, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators  were all favourites.

I then moved onto Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. From then on, it was Colin Dexter, Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George. All mainly authors who had a full series of books that I could get from the local library.
Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?
I will try anything. I do prefer a series of books based on the same characters but will read standalones as well. I’m probably more reluctant to read spy thrillers.
What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?
‘Wolf’by Mo Hayder, because it was so believably scary. If I could pick another, it would be ‘The Lying Down Room’¬†by Anna Jaquiery for its originality.
If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

 

Well, it’s one that some may not class as crime fiction.!It’s called ‘The Quincunx’ by Charles Palliser. [Ostensibly a Dickensian mystery set in 19th century England, but with a modern twist of alternative ending and unreliable narrators.] I have read it two or three times and each time it fascinates me.
ipadWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?
I’m looking forward to reading the new books by Sharon Bolton and Peter James. I really want to get stuck into the Jane Casey books as well. I’ve heard so much about them.
Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Currently it seems to be books about WW1, in particular ‘Wake’ by Anna Hope.

Thank you, Steph, for taking the time to answer my questions (and general nosiness). It seems there are quite a few of us who enjoy series by the same author, although we may be divided over the issue ‘read them in order’ or ‘read whichever is available’.

For more revelations of reading passions, see here. And if you would like to participate in the series, please let me know either in comments below or on Twitter.

How Challenging Were My Challenges?

2013 was the first year I joined in any online challenges and I am very pleased I did so. You sometimes need that extra little push or public commitment to go beyond the borders of your little world (or at least, I do).

 

2013GRC_mediumSo, how did I do?

 

I completed Kerrie’s Global Reading Challenge, which this year was still hosted on her Mysteries in Paradise website. Kerrie herself is a fantastic resource of information about crime fiction not just from Down Under, but worldwide, and I have learnt so much from the enthusiastic fellow participants in the challenge.

 

I completed the Medium Level of the Challenge, which meant two books from each of the six geographical continents, plus a seventh continent which could be a realm of fantasy or Antarctica or something you haven’t tried before. ¬†Here are the books I chose (quite different from the list I had originally planned, subject to availability and mood).

 

Africa

 

Deon Meyer: Thirteen Hours РSouth Africa

 

Michael Stanley: Death of the Mantis РBotswana

 

Asia

 

ŇĆsaka GŇć: The Red Star of Cadiz – Japan and Spain

 

John Burdett: Bangkok Eight РThailand

 

Australasia/Oceania

 

Arthur W. Upfield: Murder Down Under РAustralia

 

John Enright: Pago Pago Tango – American Samoa

 

Europe

 

Jean-Claude Izzo: The Marseille Trilogy РSouthern France

 

Stefan Slupetzky: Lemmings Zorn РVienna, Austria

 

North America

 

Louise Penny: Dead Cold  РQuebec, Canada

 

M. J. McGrath: White Heat РNorthern Territories, Canada

 

Julie Smith: Mean Woman Blues РNew Orleans  (because I felt guilty about ignoring the US)

 

South America

 

Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza: The Silence of the Rain – Brazil

 

Leonardo Padura: Havana Gold РCuba

 

Seventh Continent

 

Elizabeth Kostova: The Historian Рparanormal, vampire, historical

 

Alan Bradley: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows – Flavia de Luce series, historical, YA

 

All in all, a fantastic challenge: it may sound clich√©, but it really¬†opened up a whole new world to me. I’ve always enjoyed travelling and reading about local atmosphere and customs in books, so these took me to places I may not have visited otherwise. There was only one book I really didn’t like (The Historian) and one which I found average (Mean Woman Blues). All of the others were good to excellent. I discovered writers that I am most certainly going to read more of (Louise Penny, John Burdett, Garcia-Roza, Michael Stanley).

 

My favourite discovery was the unparalleled king of the Mediterranean Noir: Jean-Claude Izzo, who completely transported me to the world of Marseille and got me listening to its music.

 

2013transchallenge-3(1)Until recently, I did not believe I had completed the Reading in Translation Challenge – or rather, I felt I had not reviewed enough books for it. Of course, I could have entered the same books for both challenges: Deon Meyer,¬†ŇĆsaka GŇć, Garcia-Roza and Padura would all have qualified. And I did read and review some other excellent works, such as The Mussel Feast, A Man in Love, A Crack in the Wall¬†or Pietr the Latvian. So, in the end, I think I will consider that challenge complete too. Thank you, Curiosity Killed the Bookworm for enticing me to do it!

 

What challenges am I participating in for 2014? I would like to continue with both of the above challenges, but this time limit it to 1 book for each continent for the Global Reading Challenge and 6 books of translated literary fiction (rather than crime fiction, however much I love it). The reason I am being modest in this respect is because I am introducing two major challenges of my own:

 

1) The Clear My Physical and Virtual Bookshelves Challenge (CMPVBC – catchy title!) – as of today, I have 56 books on my Kindle, 21 on my shelves, and 8 on my laptop, all waiting for me. So that brings my target up to 85 before I have even taken a step.

 

2) The ‘My Favourite Countries’ Focus – I used to love reading books in German and Japanese, while Brazil is my favourite country. I want to reignite that passion and catch up with the best of contemporary writing from these countries. I have no upper target, but I would like to read at least 3 books from each of these countries). ¬†I already have a few on my shelves: Arjouni, Zweig, Bernhard Schlink, but am constantly coming up with great new suggestions from outstanding bloggers such as Tony Malone, Simon Savidge, Dolce Bellezza, Words and Peace¬†and Jackie at Farm Lane Books, to name but a few who inspire me.

 

English: Old book bindings at the Merton Colle...
English: Old book bindings at the Merton College library. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Wish me luck – I will let you know how I get on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bumper Crop of August Reading

SayersLargeCrime Fiction, including some re-reads for Crime Fiction Lover’s feature special on Dorothy Sayers in¬†Classics in September:

  1. Lynn Shepherd: A Treacherous Likeness
  2. Dorothy L. Sayers: Murder Must Advertise
  3. Dorothy L. Sayers: Have His Carcase
  4. Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night
  5. Philippe Georget: Summertime All The Cats Are Bored
  6. P.D. James: Shroud for a Nightingale
  7. Jean-Fran√ßois Parot: The Chatelet Apprentice ‚Äď first in the Nicolas Le Floch series, read it here in English for the first time
  8. Helen Smith: Invitation to Die ‚Äď more than a cosy crime novel, this is a witty satire about book blogging, wannabe writers and the rivalries and egos of the publishing industry
  9. Seth Lynch: Salazar
  10. John Burdett: Bangkok Eight ‚Äď very distinctive voice, scenes that fascinate and repel in equal measure, quite hard to bear in some ways
  11. Camilla Ceder: Babylon
  12. Alan Bradley: I am Half-Sick of Shadows
  13. Jakob Arjouni: Happy Birthday, TŇĪrke! ‚Äď in German, the first in the renowned Kayankala series
  14. Elly Griffiths: The Crossing Places
  15. Julie Smith: Mean Woman Blues ‚Äď America, New Orleans
  16. John Enright: Pago Pago Tango ‚Äď Australasia/Oceania
  17. Gail Bowen: A Killing Spring – Canadian academic crime fiction
  18. Alison Bruce: The Calling – third in DC Goodhew series, set in Cambridge, this was the first one the author wrote
  19. Stav Sherez: Eleven Days – second in the Carrigan & Miller series. The first one, ‘A Dark Redemption’ was one of my favourite crime reads of 2012. Tthis time the links are to South America, liberation theology, human trafficking and Albanian crime lords. Perhaps not quite as compelling as the previous book, but an excellent read nonetheless, and an inventive, poetic use of language.
  20. David Wagner: Cold Tuscan Stone – art smuggling in Italy, rather obvious tourist fare
  21. Kerry Greenwood: Flying Too High (Phryne Fisher) ‚Äď delectable and frothy

2 in French which deserve to be better known

  1. André Héléna: Les Voyageurs du vendredi
  2. Sébastien Japrisot : Un long dimanche de fiançailles

Escapist Capers

  1. C.L. Konigsburg: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler ‚Äď old childhood favourite that I had lost track of because of the impossible title
  2. Adharanand Finn: Running with the Kenyans
  3. Hatice AkyŇĪn: Einmal Hans mit scharfer So√üe – witty depiction of life as a 2nd generation Turk growing up in Germany
  4. Writers Abroad: Foreign Encounters – collection of poetry, creative non-fiction and short stories about the expat experience and cross-cultural encounters

Total read: 27; Abandoned 2 (not mentioned here).  

11DaysMy own internal rules dictate that I cannot¬†count my reread novels towards my favourites this month, so my top crime pick of the month: Stav Sherez–Eleven Days.

Reread 5 books.

11 e-book format

2 in French, 2 in German, the rest in English (but 3 in translation)

2 non-fiction, 1 collection of poetry/prose, the rest novels.

Finished 108 of my proposed 120 books reading challenge for this year, which probably means I have set my bar too low. ¬†Then again, from September onwards, I’ll probably struggle to read more than one book a week.

So what have you read this month? Anything you particularly remember or recommend?

 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…

Friday at last!

You know when you’ve had a week of muddiness, forgotten appointments, lost documents,¬† running to stand still, nothing ever quite working out first time…? And then one smile, one small gesture, one call from a friend can change everything?

Well, the lovely friend who worked this miracle turnaround in my mood is Sharon from World of Woosha, who has nominated me for the Beautiful Blogger Award.¬† She writes wonderful poetry – and it’s not just me who says so, two of her poems have recently been selected for an anthology! Just ‘listen’ (that is the operative word) to this autumnal haiku:

Towering tree trunks

wrapped in twilight mist, capture

words from root to leaf

Doesn’t that make you want to read more?¬† Please go and visit her blog, if you don’t know her already, and say hello from me.

I know some people think blogging awards have a whiff of chain-letters and teenage conspiracy about them, but I have to admit I still get excited about them.¬† I love the opportunity they give me of discovering interesting new blogs.¬† After all, it’s a personal recommendation from another writer whose style and opinions I respect!

BUT does the world really need to know another random 7 facts about me? I think not.

So instead, I will nominate another seven bloggers whom I really look forward to reading and whom I think you might enjoy too.  As usual, they can choose (or not) to take up this award. In fact, they are so good I am sure that many of them have the award already, but if not, I hope they will now and I hope you like them.

The journey towards first-time publication: My Pen Name Only

A young poet, risk-taker, lover: KD DeFehr

Completely mad, completely addictive poetry that will sear you: Nicholas Gagnier

Honest, insightful blogging about the hard work of writing: Vikki from The View Outside

The epitome of thoughtful expat living in Japan: Mona McDiarmid

Funny, fierce, undaunted seeker of narrative truth: Workin’ With What I’ve Got

Haunting poetry that takes your soul prisoner: Claudia Schoenfeld

Thank you again, Woosha/Sharon, and a good end of the week to you all!

Newly Discovered…

This is the joy of reading: that there is such a vast world out there waiting to be discovered… And you find new authors, new books, new genres, new countries to fall in love with.

This is the anguish of reading: that there is such a vast world out there, which you can never hope to explore in its entirety.

It feels at times like the explorers of two-three centuries ago faced with a rather blank map of Africa.  Where to go first?  What part of this vast continent was truly deserving of your time and attention?  Since you could never hope to cover it all.

For the time being, I continue to be somewhat haphazard in my meanderings.  I have not completely ruled out any genre, nor any country or time period.  But I do try to stick to what is easily accessible at present, hence my discovery of contemporary French literature (I had read mainly the classics, and mostly for schoolwork before).

So here are some of my new favourite things:

1) Veronique Olmi: Beside the Sea

Completely shattered after reading this – and yet I could not set it aside. Not the easiest of reads, especially if you are a mother yourself, but it exerted a powerful fascination. A language at once simple, unadorned, conversational and yet poetic. The back story is merely hinted at, never overtly stated. You are never in any doubt about the outcome, but what is remarkable is how the book shows just how fragile the barriers between ‘normal’ and ‘depressed’, between ‘normal’ and ‘dysfunctional’ families are. There are no easy distinctions and that very dangerous slippery slope is there for any one of us…

2) Pascal Garnier: The Panda Theory

This very dark, yet also quite funny and odd little book is the story of Gabriel, who shows up unexpectedly in a completely nondescript Breton town on a Sunday in October.  He seems taciturn yet amiable, maybe a little odd, and he gradually insinuates himself into the lives of disparate members of the local community.  He is an excellent listener and he offers to cook for people, with no ulterior motive whatsoever as far as they can tell.  While cooking a shoulder of lamb for the Portuguese bar-owner, José, he listens to the latter’s anxieties about his wife, sick in hospital. He gently turns down the flattering attentions of the pretty hotel receptionist, even as he cooks calves’ livers for her. He buys a saxophone off a couple desperate for money, although he does not play the instrument, and becomes involved in their sordid lives as well.  He wins a giant cuddly Panda at the funfair and gives it to José for his children.

Yet all is not as it seems.  Occasional flashbacks suggest a more troubled past life for Gabriel, who seems less and less cuddly as the story unfolds.

This is also the story of a small group of outsiders, people drifting at the periphery of society. These loners and no-hopers have somehow found each other and created an artificial family, clinging to each other and to some last shred of humanity.  Gabriel brings this group together, watches them reach their peak of happiness and knows from experience that life for them can only be a disappointment hereafter.

If I say that this is a novel about ‚Äėexistential angst‚Äô, it will probably put off any would-be reader.¬† Yet this world-weariness and anxiety are conveyed beautifully through an intriguing storyline, limpid prose and a dialogue of searing sincerity.¬† I cannot recommend it highly enough.

3) And four new crime fiction series that I look forward to reading in more depth. You know me and my love for exotic locations!¬† Alison Bruce’s DC Gary Goodhew series (set in Cambridge, UK), Adrian Magson’s Inspector Lucas Rocco (set in France) , Jeffrey Siger’s Inspector Kaldis (Greece) and Leighton Gage’s Chief Inspector Mario Silva (Brazil).

What have you recently discovered that made you want to get up and do a jig?  What do you want to share with everybody (or Рhush! so good you want to keep it all to yourself)?