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

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.