What I Really Read on the Beach – Summer Reads

There was quite a bit of uproar on Twitter about the extremely worthy and ever-so-slightly pretentious beach reading promoted by The Guardian. Why can’t people admit that they crave chick lit or the latest Harlan Coben instead? They don’t have to be trashy airport novels (although most recently I’ve noticed a vast improvement in terms of variety being offered at airports), but they have to be able to withstand great heat, sun cream, the odd splash of water, and fried holiday brain. Can your expensive hardback of Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir, written by John Banville, with beautiful photography by Paul Joyce, withstand that? Perhaps one to buy and keep at home as a coffee table book, rather than shlepp to distant beaches…

Of course, I won’t actually be going to any beach this summer, but I hope to get a few nice days of sitting in my deck chair in the garden and worrying about nothing else but reading. And I readily admit that I look forward to a nice dose of escapism to mix in with my literary education. So this is what I would really read if I were on a Greek beach.

Image from olimpia.rs

Crime

Michael Stanley: Dying to Live

I’m a great fan of the Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu series, and the Kalahari Desert setting fits in perfectly with the beach. Also, it’s a really intriguing tale about the death of a Bushman, who appears to be very old, but his internal organs are puzzlingly young. Could a witch doctor be involved?

Linwood Barclay: Too Close to Home

Another author that I would rather read on the beach than alone at night in a large house, as his nerve-wracking twists are prone to making me jump. The strapline on this one goes: What’s more frightening than your next-door neighbours being murdered? Finding out the killers went to the wrong house…

Helen Cadbury: Bones in the Nest

Like many other crime readers, I was very saddened to hear about the recent death of Helen Cadbury. I had read her debut novel in the Sean Denton series reviewed and marked her out as a talent to watch in 2014 on Crime Fiction Lover. This is the second in a series set in Doncaster, which unfortunately never had the chance to grow to its full potential.

Sarah Vaughan: Anatomy of a Scandal

The perfect novel for those who can’t quite take a break from politics: this is the story of an MP whose affair is made public, his wife who tries to stand by him in spite of her doubts, and the barrister who believes he has been guilty of rape. A searing look at privilege, hypocrisy and the social justice system.

YA literature

Not my usual kind of reading at all, but I like to keep abreast of what my children are reading.

G.P. Taylor: Mariah Mundi – The Midas Box

Mariah is a young orphan, fresh out of school, who is employed to work as an assistant to a magician living in the luxurious Prince Regent Hotel. But the slimy, dripping basement of the hotel hides a dark secret. I’ve heard of the author’s Shadowmancer series, but never read anything by him. Described as the next Harry Potter, this book promises to take the reader into a world of magic and fun.

Paul Gallico: Jennie

Peter wakes up from a serious accident and finds himself transformed into a cat. Life as a street cat is tough and he struggle to survive, but luckily stumbles across the scrawny but kindly tabby cat Jennie, who helps him out. Together they embark on a bit of an adventure.

#EU27Project

This is not only worthy reading, but highly enjoyable into the bargain! Although seeking out translations from some of the countries on the list is not that easy or cheap.

Hungary – Miklos Banffy: They Were Counted (transl. Patrick Thursdfiel and Katalin Banffy-Jelen)

Satisfies any cravings for family saga and historical romance, as well as looking at a part of the world which is very close to me (Transylvania). Plus a society bent on self-destruction – what more could one want?

Romania – Ileana Vulpescu: Arta Compromisului (The Art of Compromise)

This author’s earlier book The Art of Conversation was an amazing bestseller in the early 1980s in Romania, partly because it went against all the expectations of ‘socialist realism’ of the time and was quite critical of socialist politics (of an earlier period, admittedly). This book, published in 2009, continues the story of the main character, but this time set in the period after the fall of Communism in 1989. Critics have called it a bit of a soap opera, but at the same time an excellent snapshot of contemporary society. Sounds like delightful light reading, with a social critique, perfect for reconnecting with my native tongue.

Spain – Javier Marias: The Infatuations (transl. Margaret Jull Costa)

Another story with a murderous aside by an author I’ve only recently discovered and whose baroque sentences mesmerise me… Every day, María Dolz stops for breakfast at the same café. And every day she enjoys watching a handsome couple who follow the same routine. Then one day they aren’t there, and she feels obscurely bereft. She discovers that the man was murdered in the street – and Maria gets entangled in a very odd relationship with the widow.

Women in Translation Month

Another project which has the merit of being both worthy and great fun. I plan to read several of the Keshiki project of Strangers Press – beautifully produced slim translations of Japanese short stories and novellas. There are plenty of women writers represented: Misumi Kubo, Yoko Tawada, Kyoko Yoshida, Aoko Matsuda and the improbably named Nao-Cola Yamazaki. I expect the strange, unsettling, disquieting and sexually heated… Phew!

 

 

 

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WWWednesday: What Are You Reading? – 12th July 2017

WWW Wednesday is a meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. It’s open for anyone to join in and is a great way to share what you’ve been reading! All you have to do is answer three questions and share a link to your blog in the comments section of Sam’s blog.

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

A similar meme is run by Lipsyy Lost and Found where bloggers share This Week in Books #TWiB.

Current:

Two easy-going crime fiction books, to keep me motivated in my job hunt as the summer holidays beckon. The first is Robert B. Parker’s Bad Business, inspired by a great analysis of the Spenser series at the Captivating Criminality conference I attended. The second is a cosy mystery for review on Crime Fiction Lover, a nice change of pace: Mary Angela’s Passport to Murder. A campus mystery combined with a failed attempt to visit France.

 

 

 

Finished:

You’ll have seen the review of The Cut by Anthony Cartwright yesterday. This was commissioned as a Brexit novel, but it goes beyond a single issue. It is in fact the portrait of a divided country and a battle of the classes and regions which fail to understand or even listen to each other. My other great pleasure this past week or two has been to reread one of my favourite novels, Jane Austen’s Persuasion. No matter how many times I read it, I always find something new to admire. The control of language and emotions is so admirable! I did a mini-readalong with Janet Emson and Laura Patricia Rose, tweeting favourite phrases and observations as we went along. Great fun, highly recommended way of reading old favourites!

 

 

 

 

Next:

I’ve just borrowed a pile of books from the library that I should be working my way through, and I also planned to contribute to Spanish Reading Month. But I craved something angry and combative instead, so here are my predictions for upcoming reads. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Naomi Alderman’s The Power

Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Dumitru Tsepeneag: Hotel Europa (transl. by Patrick Camiller)

The author-narrator, a sarcastic Romanian émigré with a French wife, tells with great insight and humor the story of a young student’s life and education as he passes from post-Ceausescu Romania through an unwelcoming Western Europe beset with dangerous problems of its own.

 

Reading Plans for the Holidays

These will be the most unusual and uncomfortable Christmas holidays ever, as an estranged couple stuck in the same house non-stop for 2 weeks, making an effort to be civil for the sake of the children. I suspect I may spend quite a bit of it hidden away in a corner and reading, to avoid too much discussion and conflict, but there is the unavoidable ‘going through the rubbish in the loft’ moment, deciding on who gets what. (Luckily, there won’t be much crying over books, as they are 99% mine). 

So here is the reading that I am going to use to maintain my sanity through this tricky period. Not sure how much time there will be reviewing though.

Physical copies:

deepdowndeadSteph Broadribb: Deep Down Dead – have just started it and can confirm it really is as confident, sassy and American as others have reported!

Eva Dolan: Watch Her Disappear – fast becoming one of my favourite new authors

Marc Elsberg: Black Out – Austrian thriller writer I met in Lyon, this is his first book to be translated into English

Kate Hamer: The Doll Funeral – I was impressed by Kate’s writing skills in her debut novel and have high expectations of this second one – she does a child’s viewpoint so well!

guapaSaleem Haddad: Guapa – a strong new voice from the Arabic world, unafraid to tackle such contentious issues as revolution and repression, Arab Spring, homosexuality and drag queens

Kati Hiekkapelto: The Exiled – I’ve been waiting for a while now to catch up with Anna Fekete and her flawed but determined approach to policing

Luca Veste: Then She Was Gone – a missing baby and a missing politician – what on earth could they have in common? Liverpool and social issues, what’s not to like?

On the e-reader:

moxylandLauren Beukes: Moxyland – I was so blown away by Lauren Beukes’ writing that I’ve been saving her earlier books to savour but now it’s time I savoured her debut set in an alternative high-tech South Africa where apartheid is still alive and well (and evil)

William Nicholson: Adventures in Modern Marriage – irresistibly drawn to books depicting the difficulty of midlife relationships. As in ‘so much better to read fictional accounts of it rather than live through it.’

Viet Thanh Nguen: The Refugees – the dreams, aspirations, challenges and reality of immigration, the curse of living between cultures

Ian Rankin: Rather Be the Devil – the 21st Rebus novel (I know, I can’t quite believe it either!) – a reliable author I can always turn to when times are tough and I need distracting

OK, maybe I am over-optimistic about how much I can read, as I am also planning some trips to London with the boys, and we’ll also be celebrating my older son’s birthday. But that should keep me out of mischief…

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20 Books of Summer 2016 – the Packing Up Version

I was quietly resisting joining the 20 Books of Summer challenge, which I’ve seen recently on the sites of some of my favourite bloggers: Cleopatra, Jose Ignacio, Fiction Fan, Margaret and, of course, Cathy, who started the whole madness. [My heroics are somewhat undermined by the fact that I was barely able to keep up with blog posts over the past three internetless weeks.] The reason I was hesitant was because I’ll be moving over the summer and that would mean ensuring that all the 20 books are in one easily accessible box plus eReader plus charger, preferably to be transported by car rather than removal companies. One additional thing to organise which may be the proverbial straw to break my back!

And yet… the prospect of making a bit of an indent into my TBR pile is too tempting! And, for once, I’ll be cutting down on the ‘official’ reviewing, so won’t be constantly disturbed in my reading selections by ’emergency’ (i.e. quick turnaround) reviews. So, yes, Cathy, I’ve come over to the dark summery side!

For June and July, I’m aiming to read some books which are unsigned by authors, which I’m unsure of whether I will want to keep on my shelves, so that I don’t have to lug them back to the UK and can donate them to local libraries instead. In August, however, it will be the turn of well-loved books which will stay at the very top of any suitcase I pack. Of course, I’ll also use my eReader (so many Netgalley requests making me feel guilty every time I look), but its battery seems to run out every day, so I don’t want more than 1/3 of my books to be ebooks.

I also took the summer theme a little further and have tried to make it run like a thread through my reading – so it’s all about travel, new places, events which happened in summer or sunny climes. I mean, why make life easy if it can be hard?

physicalTBR20

  1. Christina Stead: The Man Who Loved Children – well, the US is an exotic holiday location for me
  2. Mircea Cărtărescu: Fata de la marginea vieţii (The Girl from the Edge of Life) –  short story collection
  3. Wolf Haas: Komm, süßer Tod (Come, Sweet Death) – Austrian crime fiction
  4. Ariel Gore: Atlas of the Human Heart – searching for self and meaning abroad
  5. Valérie Gilliard: Le Canal (The Canal) – short Swiss Rashomon-style novella set in spa town Yverdon
  6. Chico Buarque: Budapest – the Brazilian singer and songwriter’s novel about being stranded in Hungary
  7. Isabel Costello: Paris Mon Amour – because Paris and because I’ve been following Isabel online for quite some time
  8. Michelle Paver: Thin Air – not very summery, but it sure has become a holiday destination – mountain-climbing in the Himalayas.
  9. Ingrid Desjours: Les Fauves (The Beasts) – OK, the holiday premise stretches thin here, but there are connections to Afghanistan
  10. Milton Hatoum: Ashes of the Amazon – trying to escape one’s heritage, taking in the Amazon, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin and London.
  11.  Laurent Guillaume: White Leopard – running away from a dark past in France to the ‘peacefulness’ of Mali
  12. Sarah Jasmon: The Summer of Secrets
  13. Eleanor Wasserberg: Foxlowe – a closed community celebrating summer solstice ‘properly’
  14. Colin Niel: Ce qui reste en forêt – exciting new series and writer I met in Lyon, the setting is French Guyana
  15. Charlotte Otter: Balthasar’s Gift – set in South Africa and on my TBR list far too long
  16. Tim Lott: Under the Same Stars – an American road trip to find a missing father
  17. Grazya Plebanek: Illegal Liaisons – Polish and other nationalities engaging in politics and much more in Brussels
  18. John Burdett: Bangkok Haunts – because it’s been far too long since my last meeting with Sonchai Jitpleecheep
  19. Gaito Gazdanov: The Flight – summering on the French Riviera
  20. Stav Sherez: The Devil’s Playground – set in Amsterdam and I believe it was Stav’s debut novel

And, by complete chance, a perfect 50/50 split of men and women, translated/foreign and English-language fiction. The hardest thing, of course, will be sticking to the list and not allowing distractions to lead me astray… is that a butterfly I see in my garden?

Papillon at Lucenay, Rhone-Alpes, from trekearth.com
Papillon at Lucenay, Rhone-Alpes, from trekearth.com

 

Double Dare TBR Challenge

It may seem a bit early to be planning ahead for 2015…

Thank you to Annabel for making me aware of this ‘dare’ and to James for initiating this eminently sensible initiative. It’s very simple: you read only from your TBR pile from January 1st through to April 1st 2015. You can make exceptions for book clubs, review copies you have been sent and other such things.

Small selection of TBR...
Small selection of TBR…

There are circumstances which force me into this early decision…

Because I have 8 unread books on my husband’s Kindle (back from the days when I thought I could do without e-books – in 2012).

Because I have 125 books on my tablet – not counting poetry collections and single short stories/ odd bits and pieces that remain undefinable.

Because I have 52 books on my shelves that I have not touched yet. Or rather,I’ve opened them to inhale their aroma, stroke their smooth pages and lovingly stare at the title page, but not started reading anything more than the first couple of sentences.

Plus a few book orders that are winging their way to me as we speak.

So, that means a total of at least 185 books – more than I read in all of 2014 – before I even take into account the review copies I am likely to get as I continue contributing to the Crime Fiction Lover website, the impulse loans from the library and succumbing to any buying temptations. The library impulse, by the way, is not quite as haphazard as it seems, as I tend to walk in with a list of authors based on the long, long wishlist I have on Goodreads – which has become my notepad so that I don’t go in asking for a ‘book about a family somewhere in the south of France in an old crumbling house…’. If I don’t find the authors I am looking for that day, I usually leave with a lucky dip loan anyway.

As for that notorious wishlist, do you want to know how many books are currently on it? 506! No sniggering at the back, thank you very much. After all, it’s your fault, you lovely people on blogs and Twitter, that I add daily to that list.

So, come on, I dare you to join in the sanity! Your TBR piles will thank you for it!

 

Showcase Sunday: Added to my Teetering TBR Pile

This post is linked up to the Showcase Sunday meme hosted by Vicky at Book, Biscuits and Tea. A great chance for us to discuss our latest pride and joys in acquired books, whether begged, borrowed, bought or stolen (?!).

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Yes, I know that every week I promise there will be no further books added to the leaning towers of Pisa piles of books I have placed in various strategic points around the house (and hidden well on my tablet). But who can resist a good bargain (in the case of Netgalley, even free books)? However, one of my resolutions for 2015 is to stop being so dependent on Amazon and falling for all of its promotions. It’s hard to resist its lure when it’s often the only reliable source of English-language books in our part of France. And even buying French books is tricky, if you want to avoid going over the border to Switzerland. In the town created by Voltaire, our local bookshop has closed down, although thankfully we still have a shop specialising in bandes dessinées (graphic novels and comic books), which has expanded to include board games and has introduced a café-style gaming afternoon every week to ensure it remains open.

Review copies from Netgalley (I’m trying to extend beyond my usual crime fiction fare on this medium):

1) Gregory Sherl: The Future for Curious People

If you could see your love life in ten or twenty years’ time, would you still pick the same person to marry? Intriguing premise for a novel which promises to be funny as well as thought-provoking.

2) Katri Lipson: The Ice Cream Man

In the years just following WW2, a Finnish film director makes a film a little too close to reality, about a young couple on the run during the Nazi occupation. The Secret Police starts to believe he may know some uncomfortable truths. I’ve always been intrigued by Finnish literature and worldview (blame that to early exposure to the Moomins).

3) Matthew Thomas: We Are Not Ourselves

A family breaking down under the weight of mental health problems, set in the 1960s-1970s in Queens.

Purchased on a whim:

4) Stuart Kaminsky: Dancing in the Dark

Who can resist a mystery set in the Golden Age of Hollywood movies in the 1930s-1940s, featuring Fred Astaire? Kaminsky’s long-running Toby Peters series is a delightfully frothy, escapist creation.

5) Roger Smith: Sacrifices

I have Margot Kinberg to thank for this one. She mentioned Cape Town, one of my favourite cities in the world, as a setting for crime fiction and I remembered this very dark, very disquieting novel and its author, so I had to make it mine.

From the library:

6) Susan Hill: The Pure in Heart

The second in the Simon Serrailler series, which I have read in such disorder that I cannot remember which ones I’ve read and which I’ve missed out. Once again, it was fellow reviewers’ mention of Susan Hill which reminded me that I haven’t read her in ages and whetted my appetite for her complex psychological constructs.

 

And now for my dilemma: in the above-mentioned BD bookshop, I saw today a bee-yoo-tiful gleaming new graphic representation of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel ‘Fatale’, illustrated by famous BD artist Max Cabanes. It costs, however, 22 euros, which is steep even by BD standards. Should I get it or not?

From Bedetheque.com
From Bdgest.com
Fatale2
Bedetheque.com

Or am I better off getting the collected ‘romans noirs’ of Manchette for 31 euros?

Gallimard

 

 

 

 

Showcase Sunday: Another Severe Case of Book Acquisition…

I am supposedly on a book buying moratorium, but this week I cracked and completely forgot about it. After the Chateau de Lavigny readings that I attended last Sunday, I could not resist buying  paperback books by at least two of the authors present there.

glowJessica Maria Tuccelli: Glow – five unforgettable voices weaving over a century of Southern life in America; slave plantations have been built adjacent to the glades of a razed Cherokee nation. An epic novel, filled with many personal, intimate stories.

 

 

ChokeChainJason Donald: Choke Chain – Nelson Mandela said: ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ In 1980s apartheid South Africa, bad parenting seems to be rife, as two young boys find out about deceit, violence and petty crime from their volatile father.

 

Then I made the mistake of reading some reviews I trust and following some writers’ Twitter stream… and got excited about the following two books, which I downloaded in electronic format.

 Anne Fine: Taking the Devil’s Advice – already read and reviewed here

BecauseSheLovesMeMark Edwards: Because She Loves Me – a psychological thriller, filled with passion, obsession, jealousy and murderous intent. I’ve previously enjoyed the build-up of suspense in Edward’s novel ‘The Magpies’, so am curious to see what he does next.

 

I also borrowed a book in French from the library: Susie Morgenstein: Confession d’une grosse patate – a half-serious, half-humorous look at the plight and self-flagellation of an overweight woman. I later discovered it was not by a French writer at all, so there were no loving descriptions of foie gras and wine…

Finally, yesterday I attended the literature festival ‘Le Livre sur les Quais’ (Books by the Quay) in Morges in Switzerland. I had the pleasure of meeting several writers I know, admire, have read or am currently reading: Louise Doughty, Noami Wood (of ‘Mrs. Hemingway’ fame), Val McDermid, Nathan Filer. I was with a German/Swiss friend who introduced me to some German-speaking writers, while I introduced him to some French and English-speaking ones. So of course I had to buy a few books and get them signed… Sadly, none of them are yet available in English.

FouadLarouiFouad Laroui: L’étrange affaire du pantalon de Dassoukine (The Strange Affair of Dassoukine’s Trousers).

A short story collection which won the Goncourt novella prize last year, this is a wonderful mix of surrealism, absurdity and cross-cultural comparison written with great humour and compassion. I previously read and briefly reviewed this Moroccan-French writer’s wonderful book about a year in the French education system. And doesn’t this one have an irresistable cover?

 

IncardonaJoseph Incardona: 220 Volts

I love the noirish style of this Swiss-Italian writer (who writes in French) and hope he will soon get translated into English. This is the story of writer’s block mixed with marital block – a couple go on holiday in an isolated mountain chalet to try and rekindle both their relationship and their artistic inspiration. Of course, things don’t go according to plan…

 

SwissTrafficMary Anna Barbey: Swiss Traffic

The latest book by this American-turned-Swiss author, it is crime fiction with an extra literary dimension. It also bravely examines human trafficking in this wealthiest, most peaceful of Alpine countries. It is also the book that I saw several French writers reading while they were waiting for their book signings to start: always a good sign!

 

This post is linked up to the Showcase Sunday meme hosted by Vicky at Book, Biscuits and Tea. A great chance for us to oooh and aaah over our latest acquisitions. And remortgage our house to buy some more!

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