There are some cracking books out now and next week. Oh yes, get very excited as it’s going to be a busy time for fiction fans.
Setting: The Silk industry and a war zone
The Silk Merchant’s Daughter. Your literary guide – Dinah Jefferies
A story about a country divided in two – French Indochina – and a girl with both Vietnamese and French parents stuck between two worlds and the fear that she may fit into neither.
Stunning scenes of The heat and humidity of Hanoi, the art of the silk market and the cold, brutal onset of war, violence and a devastating family secret. This played out like a film in my mind. It was visually stunning and so poignant and sad. I felt so bad for Nicole and devastated at what she is faced with. How could she cope in such a situation? I was riveted to find out more about French Indochina and the historical setting but it was the plight of the characters, what it myst have felt like at the time that really got me going
Where to read- with a cup of chai tea, a silk ribbon as a bookmark and somewhere very comfortable you’ll want to read it all.
Dr Harry Kent is a doctor called out to dangerous situations and as a former army medic, he has seen some sights. But the siege in a chicken take away turns into something he’s never faced before and it’s a dangerous setup in more ways than one. With a mix of medical drama and a hectic pace that never lets up, this is a new, sharp and thrilling new angle to crime fiction.
Where to read – on a bed or near a doctor as you’ll be needing medical attention for a rapid heartbeat after this one!
Setting: a Scottish music club
Destination: Kilmarnock and other Scottish cities
Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas. Your literary guide – David F Ross
Think Train Spotting set in a musical world. Think humour and Scottish banter, the trials and tribulations of making it, busking around the Scottish music scene and trying to make big. Think life.
Following on from The Last Days of Disco, with a theme tune to take you back into the eighties, with your permed hair and neon socks or maybe with a kilt you’ve fashioned from a tartan blanket and a belt…this is the decade that style may have forgot but praise the Scottish maestro who has brought the best side of it back and brought back the music too.
Where to read – preferably in a club with a beer in one hand and music banging away n the background -wearing a kilt whilst in Scotland of course.
2000s, 1982: Siglufjörður: a quiet little fishing village until a policeman is shot in the dead of night
Why a booktrail?
Siglufjörður is unique in Iceland for being the only village accessible by a tunnel to the world outside. Life in the village is good and peaceful but when a policeman is shot at one night, at a deserted house, the sense that something bad is lurking amongst this close knit community. Policeman Ari Thor is joined by his old boss Tomas, who has been recalled from a move to Reykjavik to get to the bottom of what is going on.
That’s just the problem however for the deeper they delve into the case, the more it looks as if local politics are involved and a newcomer to the village, could have brought with her, bad remnants from her past.
Meanwhile, in an psychiatric ward, not far away, some one is starting to talk…
Place and setting
Siglufjörður is the place, safe and protected from the outside world where if something comes to break that peace, the result can be more deadly and more threatening than most. The town rather like the cover of the novel itself is dark and foreboding, the snow covers the village and muffles what really goes on behind those pretty closed doors. The community starts to unravel, threats are made and the biggest threat could be hiding in plain sight.
With a policeman shot, in a country where violence is practically unheard of, the effects are shattering. Gun ownership on the island is not uncommon as they are traditionally a nation of hunters after all, yet this has never been heard of before and so unsettles many.
Ari Thór has an uphill struggle on this hands as he knows everyone in the village, everyone knows him, yet no one seems to be talking. And a desolate house on the outskirts near to the tunnel holds the darkest secrets yet. A newly installed Mayor is making his presence felt, making a mark on the town, and a newcomer to the village has a secret no one knows about.
Meanwhile, with the chilling Icelandic winds,a voice can be heard…of someone locked in a psychiatric ward, seemingly against their will. Chilling as to what they reveal and whether those in the small village of will hear what could tear them apart
A small town, suffocating secrets, and a chillingly disturbing denouement
This man is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. How he writes so poetically and evokes so much in so few words is just outstanding. The book comes in at just over 200 pages but the world created within it is every bit as perfect asyou could imagine. The sheer beauty of the Icelandic setting, an insight into a community now linked to the rest of the island by a tunnel, the dark foreboding of a policeman’s shooting and hidden secrets make for one heck of a novel. Ragnar grew up reading and translating Agatha Christie and ti shows for the adept plotting, the sense of fear and foreboding and hiding the killer in plain sight are masterstrokes that I’m sure the great lady herself would be proud of.
There’s even time for very well developed characters in the local policeman Ari Thor, his family life and that of new characters too. The overall effect is one where you can literally see them, hear them, see their breath in the chilling Icelandic air. And sense that you are in a very unique place indeed.
Once I found out just what the ramblings of the person in the psychiatric ward was all about – well…..
A lovely note too is added at the end where Ragnar prints a small passage that his grandfather wrote about the chilling yet beautiful period where the sun disappears behind Siglufjörður’s mountains. A lovely and poignant end to a story his grandfather would be proud of.
The list this year for the Richard and Judy WHSMITH bookclub is really impressive and we review the second batch of four in brief to help you choose your next read from the list.
England – Sussex
The Bones of You
This is the ultimate – you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors kind of novel. The one where you’re thinking some people have the most perfect lives until you realise differently. The village life in England seems perfect, the fact that the missing girl has a nice family life, people go horse riding together etc
This is more of a character study than a booktrail book but it’s the family insight was what got me. What you think you see and what actually exists. How appearances can be deceptive. It’s a bit like Lovely Bones too as the dead girl Rosie talks to you the reader from time to time and describes events that Kate, a neighbour and friend is finding out.
A man praying on lone female drivers in LA – and acting as a Samaritan is the ultimate monster really when you thin about it. someone who seems to want to help and then does the exact opposite.
I think what made it even more of a thriller was the fact that the locations – LA and the Santa Monica mountains are the very palaces that would be scary to drive through on your own. I think everyone not just women is scared of something happening like this. The hunt for the person responsible is a real thriller andthe reveal of the victims and how and why this is being done… wellwhen you read about Carter Blake and the ways he sets about tracking down the Samaritan was a road trip that was very violent in place and sickening to a large extent but the thriller thread wove all the way through for me.
Not so much a booktrail but a novel all about family, ghosts of the past and people. A house opens up it doors for a viewing and the woman who lives there guides him round with each room revealing a secret or two as well as many memories. The house transports her back to her early life and the fifty so years she’s lived in the house. As well as the boxes of possessions, she’s packing away the memories and nostalgia as well and this is harder to let go off. Some are nice memories to recall whilst others not so much.
Edwina is not the only one with a claim to this house though – others in the family tell their story and the house suddenly takes on more colour, fabric of their lives and the tears and holes within
The house is a major character itself and written with the wit, charm of Jenny Eclair, this is a real winner for me. I could hear her talk as I read the book and am sure this really gave it the edge!
Europe – in a forest..
Our Endless Numbered Days
It was the fairytale aspect of the story which got me in the first place. The idea of the Hansel and Gretel cottage in the middle of the forest where a girl is taken by her father to live. The forest is huge and dark and they have to find food by foraging like animals, killing and hunting to survive. The Girl, Peggy is only 8 and has been told by her father who is a survivalist, that the end of the world is nigh. There are still people who live like this in America – who prepare for the end and the hut is going to be their salvation. Life is good fora while but the reasons for his rift with his wife and the hardship of having to life so basic, the mindset of the father himself becomes even more harsh and difficult. The story is told by Peggy as she grows up and I was shocked at the end. This was a dark fairytale with lots of hidden meaning and a reason not to go into the woods anytime soon.
This was hard to decide on as there are many novels that deserve an award to be honest. We’ve read and enjoyed so much this year and there are so many more Booktrail statues we could have awarded but I narrowed it down to these little beauties…
Most tears shed over a novel
Set in Carriveau France
We can’t recommend this novel enough. It’s sad, utterly heartbreaking but so so good and evocative of what women went through during the war. The challenges and choices of two sisters keep us reading through the night and we shed more than a tear at what they went through. Carriveau seems so real we had to check it wasn’t a real place. It’s so evocative and the story of rural France during war time is just brilliantly written and we are giving this as a present to many people this year.
Best North v South banter
The Strings of Murder
Oscar de Muriel
Set in Edinburgh
Oscar de Muriel is one funny man. Not only does he get Scottish banter spot on, but he weaves so much Scottish culture and supernatural intrigue into his plot that this is a real treat to read. We know and love Edinburgh well and this was so much fun! Creepy too but the humour and banter between the two main characters had us in stitches. And the memory of the policeman from London trying haggis for the first time will never leave us hehe
Best dual culture crime
Death in the Rainy Season
Set in Cambodia
There’s something very intriguing and special about a French detective investigating in Cambodia. France meets Cambodia was a very new crime backdrop and revealed an evocative setting for murder, politics and a great Cambodian sidekick called Sarit. Morel is a great character – one of the best in a crime novel we’ve read in a long while. The entire plot was just so immersive and so different to anything we’d read before and the way Anna Jaquiery weaved so many strands together in a complex yet smooth and poetic plot – hats off to you.
Best Dubious drama group
Set in Siglufjörður
If you’re ever tempted to join a drama group, don’t join the one in Siglufjörður will you? That’s if you ever get through that small snow tunnel that links or cuts off the town from the rest of the world. The goings on in this very small place with the writing as crisp and chilling as the dubious dealings are quite ingenious. The entire Siglufjörður setting and the silence which is broken, the screams, the 24 hour darkness….blimey this is one killer of a novel
Best use of a boat
Song of the Sea Maid
Set in Portugal
Now if we had a boat we would want to sail and have our own adventure.
Kudos then to Dawnay Price who is something of an anomaly. She was a woman who lived in the 18th century and is based on a real person. She defied men and others who said she couldn’t explore. A gutsy herione who fuels her passion and goes off on an adventure is the story we loved to read. With such evocative writing, we were right there with her and we felt as if we learned so much about the Berlengas Islands and history but never did it read like a history lesson. Rather like a song as in the title…
Most inventive use of an elephant
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
Set in India
Ah this has to be a favourite. An elephant as sidekick, a most beautiful colourful cover, a funny and witty author interview. Ah this is a labour of love and was so funny as well as being a gritty crime novel too. The setting and nature of the crimes were unique and the culture seeped into each and everyone. As soon as we put this novel down, we wanted to read the second.
What are your special reads and why? It’s fun to look back at your literary year!
We’ve just had the great fortune of getting mail all the way from Alaska saying how the booktrail has reached the farthest point of the earth! Well we were shocked – very pleasantly I might add, and there may have been a happy dance or two around the room. That’s how we heard about Alaskan author Stan Jones who we just had to meet!
And so we did, and his books. And today, we’ve tempted him out of the cold to speak to us.
We warm him up with some hot chocolate and a little bit of flaming Christmas pudding and then we chat like crazy!….
Hi Stan!. What a pleasure to meet you and read your Alaskan set stories!
Can you tell us more about and why he is your lead character?
Almost from the moment I arrived in Kotzebue, I knew I wanted to write about that lovely part of the world and the fascinating people who live there. Crime novels seemed as good a way as any, because that form offers the author latitude to explore any aspect of culture, society, history, or circumstance that strikes his fancy.
The question was, who should be the cop in crime stories about the Arctic? It needed to be someone with ties to the place and people, but at the same time someone who was conflicted (the first law of fiction being, torment your characters!).
Thus did Nathan Active spring into being: An Inupiaq born in Chukchi, but to an unwed teenage mother who knew she was unfit to raise him. So she adopted him out to white schoolteachers, who soon moved to Anchorage and raised him there.
Nathan resented his birth mother for giving him away, and grew up trying to pretend she and his birth place didn’t exist. He considered himself an Anchorage boy and set out on a law enforcement career by joining the Alaska State Troopers.
Luckily for fans of the series, life got complicated the moment Nathan completed training. The Troopers, with the customary blind perversity of every bureaucracy since the beginning of time, posted him to Chukchi for his first assignment and he’s been there ever since.
At first, he angled for a transfer back to Anchorage at every opportunity. But, over time, he has reconciled with his birth mother, and has come to appreciate Chukchi for the fascinating place it is. Now he’s there to stay, and has moved on from the Troopers to head the public safety department of the Chukchi Regional Borough. He’s The Law north of the Yukon River and south of the Brooks Range, as he puts it.
Despite all the change, Chukchi is still as unique as ever. As a character put it in the very first Nathan book-White Sky, Black Ice–“It makes sense if you don’t think about it.”
You are a native of Alaska. What is particularly special and dear to you about Chukchi where Nathan Active is born?
Chukchi is fictional, but is modeled pretty closely on a real village named Kotzebue. My family has lived there at various times and one of my children was born there.
Chukchi (Kotzebue) is about 35 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the Chukchi Sea. Because it is above the Arctic Circle, that means there are a few days in summer when the sun doesn’t set and few in winter when it doesn’t rise–talk about the edge of the world!
One of the side-effects of this phenomenon is what they call Village Time, meaning that people don’t pay a lot of attention to the clock. Since it’s either light all the time or dark all the time for much of the year, one time’s as good as another!
Chukchi/Kotzebue is home to about 3,000 people, around 80 percent of whom are all or partly Inupiaq Eskimo.
The first time I landed there was a clear October day. When I stepped off the Boeing 737 jet, it was about five degrees above zero (Fahrenheit) with the wind rolling in off the sea ice at 15 or 20 mph. It was beautiful and, strange as it may seem to denizens of milder climes, it just felt right to me.
Since that day, the place has never been out of my heart or head. I haven’t lived there in a while, but my wife and I still go back to visit whenever we can.
The last such occasion was September of 2015, when President Obama paid a visit–POTUS on the Permafrost, as the occasion came to be known. While I was there, I managed to give one of his Secret Service agents a signed copy of one of the Nathan Active books, Village of the Ghost Bears. I signed it for the president, and expressed the hope that, having seen the real Kotzebue, he might enjoy reading about the fictional version. Wouldn’t it be cool if he read it and posted a review on Amazon!?
And with that thought (Stan we think he should for sure!) we leave Stan warming his hands by the fire and filling his flask full of hot chocolate ready for the ride home.
Today we hand over the reins to Emma Cazabonne of the book blog Words and Peace. She is an English to French literary translator and loves French books and books set in France in particular!. Emma it’s over to you:
Bonjour and thank you for having me today at The Book Trail.
I was born and raised in France, growing up in the Champagne and the Burgundy regions. I was an English teacher in France and when I came to live in the US fifteen years ago, I started teaching French online. I’m also an English to French literary translator I am also an artist, painting almost exclusively on rocks.
1. Hi Emma you write the Words And Peace blog which features all things French and books set in France. Why did you start writing this blog?
Actually my book blog, Words And Peace, is very eclectic. I also review lots of historical novels for instance, not set in France, mysteries and nonfiction, among other genres!
Those who know me in real life notice that I can’t refrain from talking about what I read. When I discovered there was a species called ‘book bloggers’, who keep raving about the books they love, I knew I had to join! So I launched Words And Peace just 5 years ago, for a larger place to review the books I love and connect with other book lovers.
2. You’re planning to read So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood by Patrick Modiano set in Paris. Why did you choose this book and can you tell us more about it?
You may remember that French author Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014. I have loved his novels since I was a teenager. This novel is his latest, published just a few weeks before he got the award.
I was planning to read it in the original language of course, but it was right there on display at my (awesome) publish library. So really, how could I hesitate? I actually plunged into it right away, as I had to wait for someone, and before I left the library, I had already read a third of the book! Did anyone say I am a passionate reader? Lol
I’m not going to review it here, but I can say that it’s a typical Modiano novel, with a “greyish” ambiance, with characters that show up in previous books by him, and where the main character is actually the city of Paris itself. This novel is in between literary fiction and mystery. A short, perfect introduction to Modiano for those who don’t know him yet.
3. Book bingo is a smart feature of your blog. From your 2015 bingo card, can you tell us of a romance book set in France and one with a French word in the title that you would recommend?
Thanks! I have organized a French Challenge for several years, and I thought a bingo twist would be fun for this year.
I personally do not read much romance, but I highly recommend this historical novel, based on a most famous medieval French couple, with a lot of romance and heartache involved: The Sharp Hook of Love, by Sherry Jones
4. France Book Tours is your virtual book tour company where you showcase books set in France and invite readers to review them on their own book blogs. Why is it important for you to write about books set in your native country and/or written by native writers?
When I got seriously into the world of book blogging, I started signing up to review books for virtual book tours. I noticed virtual book tour companies were usually specialized in a specific genre.
At the same time, I got aware of the impressive number of books published every month that were written in English but set in France, or about France. So I knew this was an undiscovered niche I had to tackle, and that’s how France Book Tours was born.
Americans are very fond of France, but not everyone can afford to travel there on a regular basis. So why not travel through books, right? And when you can get these books for free, what’s not to love? Our readers receive the book for free, they just commit to review it on their own book blog at a specific date, just like it works for any other virtual book tour company.
We also feature books originally written in French and then translated in English: there’s a real mine of amazing writers in France, but if you don’t read French, you may not even hear about them. So if their books get translated, I want as many English readers as possible to discover them.
5. You are a French translator and have translated several novels. Which has been the hardest or most enjoyable to translate and why?
The most challenging has certainly been my very first historical novel, Orgueil et honneur, written by Nathaniel Burns. It’s a rather long novel set at the time of Charlemagne. I had to do a lot of research, for instance on how you would address a bishop in French at that period. Plus, I did this translation through a specific company that has not yet paid me one cent for my hard work…
My most enjoyable translation is a contemporary mystery set in the South of the US: Au nord de Folly-sur-mer, by author Tanya Anne Crosby. It’s a fun book, with great descriptions of the surrounding landscapes, very lively dialogs, and wonderful job in character development.
When a book has so much substance, even though translating is always a difficult challenge, it requires all your creativity, and so is very enjoyable.
I’m currently translating another novel by the same author, this time set in Scotland in the 13th century!
6. Can you recommend us some of your favourite books set in France?
(the Da Vinci code really sparked a influx of readers to the Louvre and Saint Sulpice. can you tell us of a place which is important literary style to yourself in some way?)
OMG, there are so many! I have read 30 books set in France so far this year, so I’m going to pick a few titles from this year only.
One of the last great historical novels I read is The Sisters of Versailles, by Sally Christie. It’s great to see that publishers are finally slowly discovering that the French court was just as interesting as the Tudors.
There’s a French mystery writer I really enjoy: The City of Blood, by Frédérique Molay.
And I really enjoyed this short literary novel, about a short ride between Champagne and Paris: The 6:41 to Paris, by Jean-Philippe Blondel.
I don’t have a specific literary place important to me. But I lived in the Champagne region and often too the train, so this last book resonated a lot with me.
Also, I love the Burgundy region where I spent many years, so it’s always fun bumping into it in books. For instance, there’s a whole series translated from the French, about a detective who is also a winemaker. Each cozy mystery in the series focuses on a different wine region. The one on Burgundy is Nightmare in Burgundy, by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen.
One of my pictures taken in Burgundy:
Thanks for having me today and for your wonderful questions.
2000s – Travelling across the Las Vegas desert in an RV to find your missing father may not be the best idea Becky’s ever had…
Becky Bloomwood is the shopaholic of the title who in previous outings has been the bane of her family and especially her bank manager’s life. Now in this latest offering, she is still in contact with him sending him emails and updates of what she’s up to. He’e even writing a book about his days as a bank manager and of course wants Becky to star in it.
But she’s got other things on her mind. Her father has gone missing . Last heard from travelling to Las Vegas where he and a friend have gone “in order to take care of something”
Like a credit card in the middle of a department store sale, Becky is dying to get out there. Las Vegas should be very afraid
Place and Setting
This is Las Vegas but not as you know it. This is Las Vegas seen through the eyes of Becky Brandon née Bloomwood and so when the novel opens with them getting stopped by the police in the middle of the Nevada desert just outside of Las Vegas, you know things are not going to go well.
The Becky bus is filled with characters you would not want on a long road trip across the US, but thankfully they’re only going as far as Las Vegas. Dad has a map from 1972 which traces a route from LA to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon so Becky follows hot on his heels to find them.
Husband Luke drives the RV in and around Las Vegas as the trail goes hot and cold and the diversions ever more wacky. From breakfast at the Bellagio to staying in the Venetian Palace, seeing Las Vegas through the eyes of a (former?) shopaholic is a novel way of seeing the city of sin. As Sin seems to have been replaced with ‘Milkshake cows’ ‘Vogue for Guns’ and reenacting various scenes from the Ocean’s 11 movie.George Clooney sadly does not make an appearance nor does Brad Pitt.
Oh and Becky being Becky manages to find herself at the Elvis Wedding Chapel to see the finer points of Las Vegas City. She gets involved with dancing, casino gambling, drinking, the local culture, the wild and wacky hotels and discovers that ‘ you can’t line dance in flip flops”
And all the while, she’s supposed to be finding her father! But there’s a plan for that…
I’d only read the first three of the Shopaholic series and well, things have changed haven’t they? Easy to follow though as if you understand Becky’s mindset from the first books and her random thoughts as they continue to veer left and right – much like the journey across the desert in a RV.
Going on a journey across the USA – well not technically as it’s from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, there are so many ways that a girl and her friends travelling in an RV can get into trouble. And she does. Becky is very accident prone and well gets into muddles you would never expect. You do have to suspend disbelief at points but then this is Becky isn’t it and she has somewhat of a reputation.
She’s not so much a shopaholic in this book as a travel guide with a difference on the lookout for an runaway dad. A crazy girl on a crazy adventure in perhaps one of the craziest cities in the US. I did enjoy the trail side to the story as they crossed the Nevada desert in the search of someone but I think I need to read more of the earlier books to get more out of this one.
I did keep imaging Isla Fisher in the scenes though and as the star of the show, if this were a future movie, she would have great fun filming this!