Is This a Slump Which I See Before Me?

A reading slump, I mean? Only a couple of weeks ago, I was blithely crowing to Rebecca Bradley (whose wonderful blog on all things crime fiction related you really should read if you don’t already) that I didn’t know the meaning of the word, that I never encounter reading slumps because reading is such a perfect escape vehicle for me etc. etc. But pride comes before a fall and I realise I may be experiencing some of those ‘slumpish’ symptoms.

I’ve rated the last 6 books I’ve read at just 3 stars (one is actually a two star) and, while this may seem like just a long round of bad picks as I try to get through my Netgalley books, it could also mean that I am harder to please than usual. So here are the books which I damn with faint praise:

secondlifeSJ Watson: Second Life – a thriller by numbers, this theme has been better done elsewhere, and the characterisation (and motivation) of the heroine didn’t quite ring true to me.

Gillian Flynn: The Grownup – hardly a novella, more of a short story; great set-up but finishes too abruptly; not terribly original but written with panache.

Alaux & Balen: Montmartre Mysteries – charming, entertaining, something for wine lovers and Fracophiles, but a bit too short and rushed towards the end, not enough robust secondary characters.

fatesfuriesLauren Groff: Fates and Furies – wanted to like this one so badly (and I did like certain scenes, such as the fevered creative collaboration frenzy at the artist’s colony, for instance), but overall found it uneven and pretentious; I enjoyed the ‘revisiting of events’ from another POV in the second part much better than the first.

astonishmeMaggie Shipstead: Astonish Me – The parts about ballet and the quest for perfection and beauty I loved, but not so much the skipping about in time and fragmented nature of the narrative or the soap opera reveals. Ballet fans will enjoy it, and it was an easy read while suffering from migraine.

Saul Black: The Killing Lessons – really exquisitely written passages of menace and waiting for something to pounce, but the whole serial killer trope was exaggerated to the point where it felt almost like a parody (or was it a post-modern comment on the excesses of the serial killer genre). And a baddy who just refuses to die. It reminded me a little of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘No Country for Old Men’ but mainly in regards to the level of violence.

But I don’t intend this to discourage you from reading the books yourselves. I realised that I was probably in a grumpy reviewing mood when even Eva Dolan – who can do no wrong in my eyes and whose first two books I loved and rated very highly – only got a 4 (maybe 4.5) stars from me for her latest After You Die (my only complaint is that it’s very domestic and contained this time round, while her previous two had a wider social canvas).

So I pity the next author or book who comes within striking distance of my gnashing fangs at the moment. And that’s my point why you can’t trust reviews blindly: because books don’t always find us at the perfect moment, because reading slumps are a reality and everything starts to feel a bit ‘samey’, because we are only human and fallible after all.

From geocaching.com
A Slump, from geocaching.com

Reading Plans for the Rest of 2015

2015 is not over yet, so there’s still time to take a little control of my reading. It’s been a reasonably good year, and I’ve felt far less of a pressure to be ‘up-to-date’ with my reading and reviewing than in previous years. [Where did that come from? I think social media may have played a part, as I never used to care about the latest launches before.]

Anyway, I have managed to stick by and large to my resolution to be less ‘greedy’ and to allow myself to be guided by my own tastes and nothing else. I’ve surpassed my target of 120 books on Goodreads (136 and counting, so likely to hit 150 by the end of the year) and only a small number of those have been ‘unsolicited’ books for reviewing purposes. [Fortunately, I’ve learnt to turn down books I don’t fancy, so I seldom feel horribly frustrated at having to come up with something about a book I was indifferent about.]

So I’ve had fun and broadened my horizons. But… you knew there was going to be a but, didn’t you?… I still struggle with a toppling TBR pile (both physical and electronic). Something needs to be done about it.

Fortunately, there are a couple of months left to make a small dent in my TBR skyscraper.

GermanLitNovember will be German Lit Month, an initiative hosted by Caroline and Lizzy (now in its 5th year, if I’m not mistaken). I plan to read 1 Swiss, 2 Austrian and 3 German books, all with a noirish feel.

  1. First up, Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s follow-up Bärlach novel Der Verdacht (Suspicion but a.k.a. The Quarry in English). I loved The Judge and His Hangman: these are philosophical crime novels, although Dürrenmatt himself thought of them as potboilers.
  2. A new name to me from Pushkin Vertigo. Alexander Lernet-Holenia: I Was Jack Mortimer (transl.  Ignat Avsey), first published in 1933.
  3. Stefan Zweig. I have a copy of Meisternovellen (collected novellas), but I haven’t quite decided which ones I will read – or if I can read all of them. This volume includes the Chess novella, 24 Hours in the Life of a Woman, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Burning Secret, Confusion of Feelings, so pretty much all of the shorter pieces for which he is famous.
  4. The final three are all crime fiction: Jakob Arjouni’s 3rd Kayankaya novel Ein Mann, ein Mord (One Man, One Murder) and 2 volumes of the Es geschah in Berlin (It happened in Berlin) series 1934 and 1938. No thanks to Mrs. Peabody for making me buy the last two!

December will be my Netgalley catch-up month, as I now have 35 titles on my bookshelf. I do want to read them all, so it’s not like my eyes were larger than my tummy. Here are the ones that attract me at the moment (although this may change by December): Yasmina Khadra’s The Dictator’s Last Night; Lauren Groff: Fates and Furies; Saul Black: The Killing Lessons; S.K. Tremayne: The Ice Twins; Sarah Jasmon: The Summer of Secrets and something completely out of my comfort zone, Massimo Marino’s Daimones Trilogy (Book 1). I know Massimo as a fellow member of the Geneva Writers’ Group – he is a former high energy physicist who has turned to writing ‘science fiction with heart and soul’.

 

 

TBR Alert! Books Bought at Quais du Polar

No, it’s not an April Fools’ Day joke! My TBR pile has augmented by another 12 books. Other than rebuying the graphic version of Manchette’s Fatale (you can find my review of the reissued translation of it on CFL),  I could not stop myself from acquiring books by favourite authors, as well as allowing plenty of room for discovering new names. Luckily, there was a fairly good selection of books in English this year as well, so I didn’t have to read the French language translations for some of them.

Old favourites:

I tend not to read series in order (partly out of necessity – it’s not easy to find the English series at libraries here in France, and I can’t afford to buy all of them), so there’s always one or two I’ve missed. The problem is that I sometimes forget which one I’ve missed – or else the title of the US and UK editions are different (Louise Penny says her publishers have promised that will stop – hurrah!). So here are the books I bought from writers whose work I already know I like:

GodsBeastsDenise Mina: Gods and Beasts – I’ve read her Garnethill and Paddy Meehan series, but only ‘The Red Road’ from the Alex Morrow series. This one takes place before the events in Red Road and won the Theakstons Old Peculier Award in Harrogate in 2013.

 

PennycoverLouise Penny: How the Light Gets In

Book 9 in the series and it’s winter once more in Three Pines. A famous woman has gone missing and Gamache has to battle with hostile forces within his department. I’ve reviewed ‘Dead Cold’ (aka A Fatal Grace) and ‘The Long Way Home’ and was searching for ‘The Beautiful Mystery’, but it was not available from Decitre’s English language section.

Child44Tom Rob Smith: Child 44

I’ll be honest: I hesitated to read this one because I’m a little traumatised reading about brutal repressive regimes (although I’ve had less dramatic immediate experience of it than other close friends). So I read ‘The Farm’ instead (which is very different, more domestic), but this account of a serial killer in the Soviet society where such crime is apparently unthinkable sounds fascinating. The author spoke about the inspiration behind the story: real-life serial killer Chikatilo, probably one of the worst criminals in history (but who committed those crimes two decades later than the events in this book).

Desai1Kishwar Desai: Witness the Night

A combination of influences made me buy this: Margot Kinberg’s spotlight on the book, reading Desai’s second book (on surrogate mothers – wombs for rent in India), seeing her speak so passionately on her panel and direct conversation with the author. As Margot says: ‘There’s always a risk when a novel addresses a social issue that the author may have an agenda that will overshadow the plot, but if it’s done well, a crime novel can be a very effective forum for a discussion of social issues.’ and Desai does just that. This book also won the Costa First Novel Award.

GranotierbookSylvie Granotier: Personne n’en saura rien (No one will know anything)

Sometimes the name is just enough. I’ve read and loved her ‘The Paris Lawyer’ and other books that have not yet been translated into English. I interviewed her at Quais du Polar two years ago and she is so thoughtful and articulate that I’ve succumbed to her charm. I have no idea what this new book is about, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it – even though it is a story of revenge, manipulation and yes, a serial killer.

Always meant to read: 

KhadraYasmina Khadra: Qu’attendent les singes (What are the monkeys waiting for)

A former Algerian army officer who uses his wife’s name to publish some of the most ambitious and topical fiction about the Middle East. Some of his work is available in English, especially his trilogy about Islamic fundamentalism: ‘The Swallows of Kabul’ (about Afghanistan), ‘The Attack’ (Palestine) and ‘The Sirens of Baghdad’ (Iraq). However, his latest book returns to Algeria and features a feisty female detective. Khadra said he is an ardent feminist, and admitted it is very difficult to be a woman in any public position in his native country. Khadra also comes highly recommended by Claire McAlpine at Word by Word.

Debut authors who impressed me at panel discussions:

VongozeroYana Vagner: VongoZero

The title is the name of a lake on the border between Finland and Russia, where a group of survivors of an apocalyptic flu epidemic are travelling for their survival. Dystopian psychological thriller written in installments on Yana’s blog, and incorporating feedback from her readers – very Dickensian.

KillinglessonsSaul Black: The Killing Lessons

Strictly speaking, Saul Black is not a debut author, as it’s the crime genre pseudonym for highly regarded author Glen Duncan. He’s always found it hard to allow himself to be contained by just one genre and has written a werewolf trilogy (which would normally be enough to put me off his writing). However, this book is more typical crime fiction fare, set in Colorado, with shades of McCarthy’s ‘No Country for Old Men’.

QuirosDaniel Quirós: Eté rouge (Red Summer) 

Don Chepe, former guerilla fighter in Nicaragua’s bloody civil war, has retired to the paradise of  a fishing village on the Pacific coast in Costa Rica. But the body of an Argentine woman washes up on the beach one day and he becomes involved in a complex investigation which digs deep into his personal and his country’s history.

Recommendations from blogs or bloggers:

BouysseFranck Bouysse: Grossir le ciel (Magnifying/swelling up the sky)

When Catherine from Le Blog du Polar de Velda recommends a new French writer, I sit up and listen. She has a nose for up-and-coming talent – and quite often a similar taste as myself, on the noirish side. This story of two isolated farms in a remote rural area of France  – and the men who inhabit them – sounds intriguing (especially to me, coming as I do from solid farming stock).

GornellBarry Gornell: The Healing of Luther Grove

Gothic tension in the Highlands, where an urban couple relocate, believing they have found their rural paradise. Barry was interviewed by Crime Fiction Lover as part of New Talent November, so his name seemed familiar, and I approached him at the book signing. When I discovered he was a debut author and this was his first participation at an international crime fiction festival, I just had to find his book in English and get it signed. It also got a glowing review by Eva Dolan on CFL.

Impulse Buy

CrystalPalaceFabrice Bourland: Le diable du Crystal Palace (The Devil of Crystal Palace)

Bourland is a great admirer of Poe and Conan-Doyle and he’s written a series of supernatural thrillers set in London, featuring elegant 1930s detectives Singleton and Trelawney. A couple of them have been translated by Gallic Books. This one hasn’t, but has a personal connotation, as it’s set just a stop or two away from the part of London where I used to live.

You may well argue that I overestimate the number of books I can keep on my shelves (even signed books), and that I still haven’t read all of the books I bought at the previous two editions of the festival. [I am in good company there, as I heard several festivalgoers say the very same thing.]

But you know what? I don’t smoke or gamble, I seldom drink or go out on shopping sprees. A girl’s got to have some vices, right? And books are my vice. What do you think? Have you read any of the above and what did you think of them? Are there any which tantalise your taste buds?