Fortnightly Round-Up – 10th June 2017

Well, it’s been a very quiet and uneventful fortnight… just kidding, of course! I probably got too loud and obnoxious for those who are not politically inclined, including on Twitter, but I am over it now.

General Update

What fun we had with the General Election here in the UK on the 8th of June! Faced with such a bad campaign from my own MP (known as Prime Minister Theresa May to others), I was tempted to think she didn’t want the job. Except she obviously does, because she is clinging to it by the skin of her teeth, with an alarming alliance which could start up all sorts of nasty processes again in Northern Ireland. A new election before the end of this year seems likely – hugely fatiguing for everybody, especially the voters. You begin to see the attraction of military coups, don’t you, as people start muttering about how much they crave stability…

But this is not a political blog, and on a personal level it has been a fairly quiet and contented time: half-term holidays, a birthday party for my youngest, meeting up with old friends, impromptu flower arrangements. I managed to rescue a few peonies before the storm flattened them and blew away most of their petals. I am becoming most definitely middle-aged…

Book Haul and Writing Update

Aside from the small pile of books I managed to accumulate during my trip to London, I also ordered a few second-hand books from various sources, based upon the recommendations of my fellow bloggers and Tweeters. This is where I get all of my book-buying impulses nowadays!

Roberto Bolano’s quasi-crime novel was praised by one of my fellow Crime Fiction Lover reviewers Phil Rafferty as being one of the books which got him hooked on crime. Yuri Herrera has been reviewed by Tony Malone and Stu Jallen; also, it’s about migration, so that’s three favourites right there… The British Library Crime Classics often throws up interesting little gems and this particular title Family Matters was recently reviewed by Guy Savage. Finally, I succumbed to Miles Franklin’s books following Kim Forrester‘s spirited recommendations of books on Twitter, with a particular emphasis on Australian fiction, which I have read all too little.

I can now tell you about my writing prize for poetry, although I am none the wiser if it was 2nd or 3rd (I do know it wasn’t 1st). It was the Geneva Writers Group Literary Prize, now in its fifth year. This year the judges were Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books for Fiction, Nick Barlay for Non-Fiction and Naomi Shihab Nye for Poetry. And that is the reason I am so super-excited to have won anything at all, since Naomi Shihab Nye is one of my favourite contemporary poets and also the person who single-handedly inspired me to go back to writing poetry in 2012, after a couple of decades of neglect.

Blogging Round-Up

I’m having great fun digging up some of the more obscure times from my bookshelves – it amuses my geekish nature and brings back fond memories. Over the past fortnight, I’ve looked at my Japanese collection and my small collection of hardcover books.

Two blog posts which I try to include on a monthly basis are my May Reading Summary and Six Degrees of Separation meme. This time the latter started with a book I hadn’t read, Steve Martin’s Shopgirl, so it required some acrobatics to find suitable links.

The blog post that got the most attention this past fortnight was my personal reflection on The Handmaid’s Tale and its recent TV adaptation. I was amazed, flattered and humbled by just how many people read it, talked about it, tweeted about it, including many people who had never visited my site before.  Thank you all! It completely smashed my previously modest blogging stats. I seldom get more than just over 100 visits per day (on a good day), but the day I posted that I got 776 and the blog post was viewed nearly 1000 times.

My favourite blog post to write, however, was the simple description of my very enjoyable day out in London.

For those who prefer me when I am less loquacious, however, I also posted two poems: an autumnal one and a military-inspired caper about depression. And of course I continued with my eye candy Fridays of tiny homes and sheds.

February 2016 Reading Round-Up

Trying to stick to my resolution and read only from my TBR pile, but a few slipped through the net (in addition to the usual review copies).

Picture from mirabiledictu.org
Picture from mirabiledictu.org

TBR on the shelves:

  1. Andrew McMillan: Physical
  2. Petina Gappah: The Book of Memory
  3. Denise Mina: Gods and Beasts
  4. Klaus Vater: Am Abgrund (Es geschah in Berlin 1934)

Netgalley Guilt:

  1. Claire Vaye Watkins: Gold Fame Citrus – DNF
  2. Asne Seiersted: One of Us
  3. Simon Booker: Without Trace
  4. Jeanne M. Dams: Blood Will Tell
  5. Massimo Marino: Daimones (Part 1)
  6. Melissa Harisson: Rain – Four Walks in the English Weather
  7. Hideo Yokoyama: Six Four

Review copies sent by publishers:

  1. Karl Ove Knausgaard: Some Rain Must Fall
  2. He Jiahong: Black Holes
  3. Yusuf Toropov: Jihadi- A Love Story
  4. James Oswald: The Damage Done
  5. Kate Medina: Fire Damage

Slipped through the net:

  1. Amanda Jennings: In Her Wake
  2. N. J. Fountain: Painkiller
  3. Fred Vargas: Temps Glaciaires

Male/female ratio: 9 male/ 9 women and one not known

English language/translated (or foreign) ratio: 13 in English/ 6  translated

Many good reads this month, but the most unforgettable (and unsettling) book of the month: Asne Seiersted’s account of the Norwegian massacre in 2011.

As you may have noticed, I am also a little behind on reviews, because I’ve been trying to work, write and go skiing with children on holidays. On the days when they weren’t ill and demanding my attention, or else I was coming down with flu yet trying to concentrate enough to write a professional article. Reading, however, proved the perfect antidote to tired muscles and brains!

In terms of writing, I have not progressed much this month with the middle and end, but I have edited the opening of my novel, written a synopsis and found a (temporary?) title. I have also submitted some poems (and had one accepted), so it’s been a month of timid progress.

 

Six in Six Book Meme

I found this delightful book meme with Margaret over at Books Please. It was something started by Jo at The Book Jotter. You summarise six months of reading, sorting the books into six categories. Jo suggests plenty of categories, but you can also create your own. The same book can obviously feature in more than one category.

Here is my version for 2015, with links to my reviews where those exist.  I had a hard time not using the same book more than once for each of the category – that was the one rule I set for myself, so that I could present as many books and authors as possible. It is fair to assume that books I loved and authors I want to read more of are interchangeable.

6 Books I Loved

Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji – the best three months of reading, total immersion in a very strange world, yet still fully relatable

Ansel Elkins: Blue Yodel

Tom Rob Smith: Child 44 – particularly effective when read just before watching the film, and comparing the two

Jean-Patrick Manchette: Fatale

Eva Dolan: The Long Way Home (although I could just as well have put her second novel Tell No Tales)

Jonas Karlsson: The Room

6 New Authors to Me

Sara Novic: Girl at War

Sherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Karim Miske: Arab Jazz

Kanae Minato: Confessions

Metin Arditi: Loin des bras

Yasmina Khadra: L’attentat

Some of them were more exciting than others, but I think I want to read more from each of these authors I’ve just discovered.

6 Books that Didn’t Live up to Expectations

Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train – entertaining enough, but quite average for my taste, despite its resounding success

Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation – poetic and thought-provoking, but ultimately too fragmented and cold for me. Perhaps suffering also in comparison to Elena Ferrante’s ‘The Days of Abandonment’, which I had read just before.

Matthew Thomas: We Are Not Ourselves – moving, well-written in parts, but just too long and trying to squeeze too much in

John Enright: Blood Jungle Ballet – I loved the first book in the series so my hopes were perhaps too high for this one

Vesna Goldsworthy: Gorsky – The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books, so I thought I’d love to see it transposed into present-day London with all of its foreign money. But alas, it didn’t add anything new…

Stefanie de Velasco: Tigermilk – not the Christiane F. of the new generation of Berliners…

6 Authors I Want to Read More of

Elena Ferrante

Emily St. John Mandel

Laura Kasischke

Virginie Despentes

Kishwar Desai

Tana French

Would you look at that? They are all women!

6 Books I’d Like to See Translated into English

Hubert Mingarelli: La Route de Beit Zera

Jeanne Desaubry: Poubelle’s Girls

Jeremie Gue: Paris la nuit

Liad Shoham: Tel Aviv Suspects

Fouad Laroui: L’etrange affaire du pantalon du Dassoukine – or several other books by this author, he hasn’t been translated at all into English

Friederike Schmoe: Fliehganzleis

Sorry, they are nearly all in French. That’s because I can only talk about those books written in languages I can read other than English – and I’ve read far fewer German books this year and next to no Romanian books. This may be about to change…

6 That Don’t Fit into Any Category But I Have to Mention

Megan Beech: When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard – spoken poetry by a very young, talented and opinionated woman poet

Tuula Karjalainen: Tove Jansson: Work and Love

Daniel Pennac: Comme un roman – how schools or adults can kill the love of reading; and how to reignite it

Ever Yours: Van Gogh’s  Essential Letters

Etienne Davodeau: Les Ignorants – learnt so much about comic books and vineyards, all in a humorous way

Sarah Ruhl: 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write – something any mother/creator/professional can relate to

 

Reading in June

Longest days, shortest nights of the year, so plenty of time for reading in June –  not much time for anything else in fact! It’s the kind of month where I can’t hear myself think, let alone write, we were all so busy with end-of-year stuff. So reading it is, to feed that relentlessly hungry gawp in myself.

#TBR20 Challenge is going well:

#TBR3 Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji (also re-reading challenge)

#TBR4 Stefanie de Velasco: Tigermilch

#TBR5 Wendy Cope (ed.): The Funny Side

#TBR6 Kishwar Desai: Witness the Night

#TBR7 Liad Shoham: Tel Aviv Suspects

#TBR8 Ever Yours: Essential Van Gogh Letters

#TBR9: Alex Capus: Mein Nachbar Urs

#TBR10: Sergei Dovlatov: Pushkin Hills

#TBR11: Jeremie Guez: Paris La Nuit

#TBR12: Muriel Spark: Loitering with Intent (also a rereading challenge)

#TBR13: Friederike Schmoe: Fliehganzleis

#TBR14: Fouad Laroui: L’étrange affaire du pantalon de Dassoukine

These last two will be reviewed shortly, or as soon as holidays and children allow.

Review copies:

Cath Staincliffe: Half the World Away

Hakan Nesser: The Summer of Kim Novak

Ruth Ware: In a Dark, Dark Wood

Maggie Mitchell: Pretty Is

Pascal Garnier: Boxes

The One That Got Away:

Etienne Davodeau: Les Ignorants

Some other facts and figures:

18 books read in total, of which 7 can be legitimately classified as crime fiction/psychological thriller. My Crime Fiction Pick of the month (a meme initiated by Mysteries in Paradise) is Witness the Night, although I was also very impressed with Tel Aviv Suspects and Paris la Nuit.

3 books in German, 4 in French, 7 translations (from French, Swedish, Russian, Dutch, Hebrew and Japanese). I haven’t done so well in my Global Reading Challenge, with only Kishwar Desai bringing me to a new country, India. I still have to read books set in Africa, Oceania and South America, and find something for the 7th continent. 9 by women authors, 9 by men. And I am only 3 reviews behind!

1 poetry, 1 graphic non-fiction book, 2 rereading challenges, 1 auto-biography/letters.

Doing the #TBR20 challenge is having a very calming effect on me. Although I’ve still been doing a fair share of reviewing, it has felt much more within my control. I’ve felt much more freedom in the selection of my next book, plus there is such satisfaction to be had when you make a dent in your messy book pile!

Having said that, though, I must admit that I’ve cheated slightly and borrowed some books from the library. I haven’t actually started reading them yet, as they are for the duration of the summer holidays. So I will start them once I’ve completed my #TBR20 – that’s still within the rules, right?

Coming up for the #TBR20? A female French writer, for a change – Sylvie Granotier’s latest. One of my favourite German crime writers, Jakob Arjouni, and The Neck of the Giraffe by Judith Schalansky. Blood Jungle Ballet, set in American Samoa. I may have a change of heart for the remaining two books of the challenge, so I’ll allow myself (and you) to be surprised.

And those library books? The latest Vargas Temps Glaciares, a fictionalised biography of Isadora Duncan (one of my childhood heroines) by Caroline Deyns and Carrère’s L’Adversaire (couldn’t resist, after hearing the neighbours’ story of the real-life event which it’s based upon).

Approved but Still Too Greedy

Frequently Auto-Approved

Professional Reader

What, you may ask, is this little stamp of approval that I am supposed to add to the sidebar of my blog? It is a new badge from Netgalley designed for members who are auto-approved by four or more publishers. (The one below is what every reviewer registered on Netgalley receives.)

So what does this mean? Does it mean that my gorgeous writing style and incisive reviews have wooed the great and mighty of the publishing world? That they crave my approval and are falling over themselves to put my words of wisdom on their book covers?

Nope, it means I am far too greedy for my own good still. And that, despite my efforts to clear a little of my TBR list, I still have 30 (thirty!) unread books on my Netgalley shelf. That website will be my undoing…

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.

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.