Friday Fun: Three Quick Reads by Women Writers

I alternate the heavier tomes with more fun or thrilling reads (not that thought-provoking bookys aren’t fun or thrilling, but you know what I mean…), so here are some recommended books for this weekend. They slide oh so smoothly down your reading chords in just a matter of hours! And I’ve even associate some drinks for each one of them (because it’s the weekend!).

PaulaDalyPaula Daly: Keep Your Friends Close

Natty and Sean married young but have a good marriage and a hotel business they have worked very hard to build. Natty is perhaps getting a little too absorbed in running the business and the family, but Sean seems to understand. Or does he? When their daughter suffers an accident on a school trip and Natty rushes to her side, her friend Eve steps in to help the family back home. But Eve turns out to be a femme fatale in the guise of a friend, who manages to make Sean fall in love with her and drives a wedge between Natty and her family. Daly is so good at creating situations we can all somehow relate to, even if her characters are not all that sympathetic. Despite some elements which strain credibility, the odd plot-hole and an ending I did not quite agree with, this was a real page-turner and a tense, if somewhat cynical lesson in psychology.

Drink: Campari Orange, refreshing and initially sweet, but with a tinge of bitter

Cathy Ace: The Corpse with the Platinum Hair

prweb.com
prweb.com

A fourth outing for criminologist Cait Morgan, this time in that temple of decadence known as Las Vegas. Invited for birthday celebrations at a private members’ club, Cait and her boyfriend Bud become embroiled in a classic locked room mystery when there is a power cut, a murder and a security meltdown meaning that they and ten possible suspects are all locked for 12 hours in a luxurious but deadly restaurant. A detailed review will be coming up on Crime Fiction Lover.

Drink: The theme of the night is Russian and plenty of caviar is being served, so what else can we team that up with but ice-cold vodka?

Anne Fine: Taking the Devil’s Advice

AnneFineFine does more than just Killer Cat children’s books. Her books for grown-ups shed an uncompromising light into the flaws and dark recesses of the human psyche. This story of a marriage and a divorce – alternating between ‘his and her’ version of events – is brutally funny and mercilessly analytic, although none of the characters emerge unscathed.

[I discovered this one thanks to Sophie Hannah on Twitter. I owe quite a few reads to her, Stav Sherez and Eva Dolan. It pays to follow good writers, you see, because they are always, invariably, good readers as well!]

Drink: Tequila shots, with plenty of salt to rub into the wounds

 

 

Some of the Best Review Work I’ve Done

gonefishingnotonthehighstreetFor most of the rest of this month I am forsaking reading and writing for the doubtful joys of money-making, business travel and being criticised no matter what I do (I guess that happens at home with the kids as well, but I know they don’t really mean it).

So I won’t be around to read or comment on blogs too much, nor write much here. Instead, please find enclosed a list of links to some of the best reviews I’ve done to date for the Crime Fiction Lover website. These are not straightforward book reviews (although I’m proud of them too), but slightly lengthier feature articles. Enjoy!

The Best of Dorothy Sayers for Classics in September

Holiday Reads for Most Popular Tourist Destinations

Special Report from Lyon’s Quais du Polar Crime Festival, 2013 edition

Starter Guide to French Crime Fiction 

Women Crime Writers to Watch in 2013

Revisiting Maigret for Classics in September

Five Books Which Got Me Hooked on Crime Fiction

November Reads; Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

What a wonderful month of reads it has been: a promising mix of both quality and quantity, despite lots of business travel and a drop in reviewing capacity. Plus a good representation of women writers, which is not always the case every month!

I have had the pleasure of discovering some debut or nearly-debut authors. By ‘nearly-debut’, I mean authors who are perhaps on their third or fourth book but have yet to be picked up by a publisher or who have only just been translated into English. I have mentioned the first four of these in my feature on 5 Women to Watch Out For in 2014 on Crime Fiction Lover

cover12Helen Cadbury: To Catch a Rabbit   Gritty Northern crime, with a focus on immigrants and community policing – a really promising start. I can’t wait to read more from this author!

Celina Grace: Requiem   Self-published author with a solid police procedural and engaging characters.

Jonelle Patrick: Idolmaker   Celebrity cult and tsunami in Japan – just love the setting of this series.

Cover2Ioanna Bourazopoulou: What Lot’s Wife Saw   Most inventive, genre-bending work I’ve read in a long time. Left me aglow.

Helen Smith: Beyond Belief   Fun escapism (despite the body count), excellent use of humour and irony, gently mocking spiritualism, credulity and conferences everywhere.

Cover5Alex Marwood: The Killer Next Door   So well known by now, that she barely qualifies as a nearly-debut author! This is Alex Marwood’s second book, a psychological thriller with a sad twist about the unmissed and unwanted people of a large city . I’ll be reviewing it shortly in more detail for CFL, but it’s an intriguing story set in a seedy London boarding house (I’ve known a few of those during my student days). I will never feel the same again about blocked drains!

Other Crime Fiction

Georges Simenon: Pietr the Latvian    Going right back to the first Maigret novel in this wonderful initiative of reissuing one novel a month by Penguin Classics. Big, burly, solid and eminently reliable, Maigret is his wonderful laconic self, springing fully-formed from his creator’s mind.

Cover 3Helen Fitzgerald: The Cry    Thank you, Rebecca Bradley and the other Book Club members for inciting me to read this gripping and very emotional read about a couple losing their young baby, and the aftermath in the media, the courts and within the family home.

Marne Davis Kellogg: The Real Thing    Elegant crime caper set in Cary Grant/Grace Kelly territory on the French Riviera.

Non-Crime Reads

Cover9Hanna Krall: Chasing the King of Hearts    Achingly haunting, low-key emotions in a pared-down, but never simplistic language. Almost unbearably sad ending – yet so realistic. A beautiful book. just when you thought nothing more could be written about the Jewish experience during the Second World War.

Sam Riviere: 81 Austerities     A debut collection by a young poet, which I picked up on impulse at Foyle’s in London. By turns prosaic, witty, funny and sad, this is an eclectic collection of glass-clear observations and surprising combinations of words and insights. The pyrotechnics of youth, certainly, but also lots of substance and depth.

Cover1Fouad Laroui: Une année chez les Français   Witty and brave take on cultural differences, as a young Moroccan boy embarks upon a year of study at a French boarding-school in Casablanca. Perfect description of the innocence and cluelessness of the boy from a country village, absolutely charming yet with sharp (sometimes sad) observations about assumptions of cultural superiority. An anthropologist’s dream.

And my Crime Fiction pick of the month, a meme hosted by Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise? Very, very tough choice, as there were at least 4-5 of the above I could have picked. In the end, I opted for ‘The Cry’ by Helen Fitzgerald.

Four Women Writers

I was afraid that too many of my reading challenge choices were by male authors, so I made a point of introducing a female quota.  So here are four very different women authors, showing the variety and richness of what is sometimes disparaged as ‘women’s literature’. As it happens, I personally know three out of the four women writers whose books I feature below.  However, this has not influenced my reviews of their books – although I have refrained from giving stars on this occasion.  Sadly, the first two are only available in the original (Romanian and French, respectively).

Claudia Golea Sumiya:  În numele câinelui (In the name of the dog)

Not really a novel, more of a straightforward account of the true but surprising story of a man called Takeshi Koizumi, currently facing the death penalty in a high-security prison in Tokyo.  Back in 2008, the 46 year old unemployed man admitted his involvement in fatally stabbing a former vice welfare minister and his wife, and also wounding the wife of another former health and welfare minister in a separate incident. The reason for his crime?  Punishing the people who had ordered the detention and extermination of his pet dog, his childhood friend, in a local dog pound.  In Japan, these dog pounds are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Welfare.  An animal lover herself, the author began corresponding with Koizumi in prison and  this book combines his letters with her own impressions of the man and her growing understanding of (if not condoning) his actions.  There are probably good (legal) reasons why the story could not have been written in any other way, but I cannot help feeling that it would have been so much more powerful as fiction.

Hélèna Villovitch: Petites soups froides (Little Cold Soups)

Artist, filmmaker and writer, Villovitch experiments with form, style and content in this collection of short stories.  The title story is written as vignettes in the shape of the ‘little cold soups’ which serve as nibbles at cocktail parties nowadays, a commentary on the inability to connect to others and the separate conversations going on in people’s heads.  Other stories capture celebrity culture and obsession with appearance, cross-cultural misunderstandings and little cruelties or envies between friends.  The author has a dry humour and unsentimental style which really suits the everyday subject matter. Although the stories were rather uneven overall, I admire this author for being brave and trying out new ideas.  Sometimes it feels like there is too little ‘radical newness’ in literature nowadays.

Carmen Bugan: Burying the Typewriter

This is a poignant memoir of a family very nearly torn apart by the secret police of the Communist regime in Romania.  The first part describes the near-idyllic childhood in the countryside, surrounded by friends and grandparents.  The author is a poet, and this is obvious from the rich visual imagery and melodic phrases to describe the passing of the seasons, village life and its traditions.  Then her father buys a ‘secret’ typewriter (i.e. one that has not been recorded by the secret police and traced to its owner) and starts writing and distributing pamphlets with the rather modest basic requests: “We ask for human rights. We ask for freedom of opinion. We ask for hot water and electricity. We ask for freedom to assemble.”  The safe, happy childhood is shattered as the author’s father is imprisoned, her mother is forced to divorce him, and they become subjected to constant surveillance and harassment.  The horrors of the regime are not fully revealed, as it is all presented through the eyes of a child: far more shocking to her is the sudden loss of friends or having neighbours inform against them.  A book that moved me not just for its shared cultural language and memories, but because it brings compassion, warmth and understanding to an area and a time which is usually so bleak and unforgiving; its ghosts and echoes are still haunting Romania today. What remains after reading this book is the clear picture of the luminous, redeeming power of love, of family and of literature.

Nicky Wells: Sophie’s Run

Just what the doctor ordered, when I was running hot and cold during the night and couldn’t sleep.  An engaging heroine who never quite falls into the ditziness which can sometimes plague chick lit, mostly adorable men (despite the odd rat or two) and a story line filled with surprises and humour.  In fact, my main point of contention with the story is just how caring and supportive the men seem to be – could this qualify as fantasy?  The story opens two years after the end of ‘Sophie’s Turn’ and the characters have matured a little.  The story too has become a little deeper and darker, with topics such as depression, loneliness and forgiveness all being addressed.  I also like the travelling theme which seems to feature heavily in the Sophie novels: in this book we can undertake vicarious trips to Berlin, Scotland and a remote German island in the North Sea, as well as spend a day sightseeing in London.  Escapist literature, yes, but what is wrong with that?