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!
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.
Where all things Scottish are celebrated and quite rightly so. Scotland has some of the most stunning scenery in the world and is a top tourist destination. There’s the well known and loved Loch Ness Monster, the Edinburgh tattoo, Haggis, bagpipes and of course Tartan.
But what we love is its humourand its people. And the many gifted writers who love Scotland so much it becomes a feature in many books. Books that highlight and pay homage to much of Scotland’s magic. And the magic time of the Edinburgh book festival! A book pilgrimage for many.
A short tour if we may….
*Discussing the need to rid Scotland of its darker side in Robertson’s Glasgow:
Every one deid is one less bampot on the streets
*Giving an honest appraisal of a haggis dish:
“I would rather kiss a public latrine that each something of such foul appearance.”
There is some very fine Scottish food (haggis being one example!) such as bridies, stovies and fine venison!
*Debating the history and legacy of Body snatching …
At the time, most bodies worked on by anatomists were cold indeed. They were brought to Edinburgh from all over Britain — some came by way of the Union Canal. The resurrectionists — body-snatchers — pickled them in whisky for transportation. It was a lucrative trade.”
“But did the whisky get drunk afterwards?”
Devlin chuckled. “Economics would dictate that it did.”
*Experiencing a wedding on the most northernly Shetland island of Unst during Simmer dim?
A single chord played on fiddle and accordion,a breathless moment of silence …This was the hamefarin’
The Simmer dim was the summer dusk. “So far north it never really got dark in in June.”
*Meeting some of Scotland’s folklore..
Whether it’s the Shetland trowes, or the Loch Ness monster and a modern tale of the search forit, Scotland never fails to capture the imagination.
And there’s the little dog, Grey Friar’s Bobby, who sat by his master’s grave – immortalised in books, film, tv and a statue..
*And who could forget –
Bertie from 44 Scotland street, Edinburgh. Always full of wisdom when either debating the need for a certain plaque :
“No plaque reminds the passer-by of these glories, although there should be one; for those who invent biscuits bring great pleasure to many.”
or just expressing the dreams of a young Scottish lad:
“Life would undoubtedly improve when he turned eighteen and could leave home to go and live somewhere far away and exotic – Glasgow, perhaps”
Best not venture into Robertson’s Glasgow though eh Bertie?
There’s so much Scotland has to offer Bertie – both in literature and for real.
Jilted by her fiance in England, Honor Bright, a Quaker woman, decides to accompany her sister Grace to America to help her adjust to hew life as a pioneer woman in rural Ohio. But then tragedy strikes, and Honor is faced with trying to find her own way in a strange and often hostile land.
Times are hard for people – and they are especially hard if you are a slave. When Honor meets such a person, she has a lot to learn. Setting this story of slavery and hard times in the Midwest enables Chevalier to beautifully evoke the landscape and the climate very well.
The setting becomes a character as she describes and illustrates the history and legacy of slavery and the people who suffer it. For example – What happens to those who appose or blatantly disobey the Fugitive Slave Act? What extremes do they have to go to in order to try and make things right? What happens if they get caught? And who is looking to catch them out?
The flavour of the American midwest is not only evoked by setting of course – the way of life and the social mores of the time are examined such as the difference between English quilting and the American way of doing it, recipes between the two countries, culture and much much more.
On hearing that this young girl is off to Ohio, a sailor on the crossing makes a comment –
Ohio! The sailor snorted. ‘ Sick to the coast, love. Don’t go nowhere you can’t smell the sea, that’s what I Say. You’ll get trapped out there in all them woods.’
On seeing a covered bridge for the first time-
The bridges crossing streams and rivers from her childhood were stone and humped. Honor had not though that something as fundamental as a bridge would be so different in America.
Although a fictional book, there is also a lot of historical fact and circumstance interwoven into the story – the lives and suffering of the Quakers was a particular subject I had little awareness of so this was interesting to me, the underground railroad system and the subject of immigration and well, when it boils down to one thing – a poor young girl miles from home and desperately trying to survive and make sense of the world around her.
History really does repeat itself in many ways when you think of it like that Chevalier takes us back there and lets you experience the world through Honor’s eyes. A treat for historical fans and for those who like a good plot with a strong setting as essential to the story.
For more on this novel and Tracy Chevalier’s writing, then take a horse driven carriage over to her website – http://www.tchevalier.com/
As with Turkey, the incredible country we featured yesterday and its city pick guide, we booktrailers do not have much experience of Russia either. However, when there is a city pick guide on St Petersburg, you don’t need to go there for real. But if you do, your visit will be all the richer if you read this before you go –
Anna Pavlova describes her school days
Vladimir Nabokov re-lives a St Petersburg winter
Helen Dunmore plunges us into the worst of times
Dmitry Shostakovich reveals a musical secret
Truman Capote takes Porgy and Bess to the Soviets
Nikolai Gogol walks us down Nevsky Prospekt
I am personally fascinated by this city, mostly due to my literary wanderings with Russian literature I have come across on my travels in bookshops. Well this book has a wealth of snippets from non- fiction and fiction to be able to tempt you around St Petersburg and maybe even further afield!
St. Petersburg is a dream of a city –
The founding of St Petersburg in 1703 was Peter the Great’s ‘I have a dream’ moment. He did, indeed, have a clear vision of the elegant, enlightened European-style city on the River Neva…
These short introductory texts lead nicely into the range of writers who each in turn give their impression of the city either in a short paragraph or a section of their book. Perfect for hoping in and out of as you would ona tour of the city itself.
Helen Dunmore is the first to take the literary stand –
Floating, lyrical, miraculous Petersburg, made out of nothing by a Tsar who wanted everything and didn’t care what it cost. Peter’s window on Europe, through which light shines. Here’s beauty built on bones. classical facades that cradled revolution, summers that lie in the cup of winter.
In Duncan Fallowell’s One Hot Summer in St Petersburg for example –
..the winter canal and beyond it the epauletted shoulders of the Winter Palace……
And then there’s Malcolm Bradbury whose novel To the Hermitage contains the kind of historical information that makes it come alive right off the page. Peter the Great for example becomes a very colourful character –
A boisterous young man who broke windows, turfed friends, acquaintances, even total strangers into hedges, he drank and whored with the best.
A trip through not only the city of St Petersburg but also of Russia and its past. Visit places in novels – not just of the one or two you may know such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina – discover more about Russian literature and authors, walk down the same streets and meet people from history.
One spur of the moment decision can change your life in ways no one ever could have forseen.
Story in a nutshell –
Yvonne Carmichael is a scientist, with a seemingly perfect life of a beautiful home and a good marriage.
One day she meets a man in the Houses of Parliament and the two of them start an affair.
It’s the start of a reckless liaison but there is much more at stake here – for there is a lot more to her lover than is apparent.
And neither of then could have foreseen what happens next….
Set in London – in and around the Houses of Parliament and of course Apple Tree Yard
A – Westminster Bridge
B- Houses of Parliament and Palace of Westminster
C – Charles II Street
D – Duke of York Street
E – St. James’s Square
F – Apple Tree Yard
The novel opens up at the Old Bailey –
We don’t know the meaning or significance of Apple Tree Yard – and why it should be the title of the book at this point – but a keen piece of foreshadowing in the opening courtroom scene sets it up nicely –
You are familiar aren’t you?’ says Mrs Bonnard in her satin , sinuous voice, ‘with a small back alleyway called Apple Tree Yard.’
The novels opens as Yvonne is on trial as a direct result of her affair but for exactly what kind of crime we are not sure yet. The tension is palpable and the starkness of the court walls feel as if they are closing in on both Yvonne and the reader. –
I know that in a few seconds, I will start to hyperventilate . I know this even though I have never done it before.
Her inner turmoil is compounded by the fact that much of the novel is written in Yvonne’s mind so that her turmoil and sheer panic that is most effective and alarming is always there, in indirect conversation with her secret lover giving the whole novel a feeling of subterfuge amidst a black veil of confusion as well as secrecy.
The start of the affair –
You paused briefly, then said, ‘Have you seen the Chapel in the Crypt?’ Your tone was light, conversational. I gave a small shake of the head. ‘ Would you like to?’
As the affair continues and becomes even more frenetic and dangerous, it is in complete contrast to the calm, professional exterior of Westminster, the tourists and the Houses of Parliament where Yvonne and the man both work and where they conduct their affair –
I wander up to the house of Parliament and take a walk over Westminster Bridge and pause to lean back against the stone balustrade and watch the tourists holding up their iPads up to Big Ben.
It’s the order of everything so out of place with what Yvonne and her lover are doing that are so thrilling to read. This is a real mystery – which is unlocked by coming to know Yvonne, her reasoning and “excuses” for the affair, the lies she tells herself. Seeing and getting to know her lover only through her eyes makes him an enigma and all the more thrilling as we see him as she does, and finds out about him at the same time as we do –
Their meetings are dirty and phone numbers are swapped in rushed exchanges –
We are still deep in conversation in the cafe on Duke of York Street, deep in our mutual exchange of confidences, when you sit back in your chair and say, abruptly, ‘I have to go now’
Addictive. Totally and utterly addictive. Yvonne, as she tells us the story, is very dry and exacting as she digs herself deeper and deeper into a situation that causes her entire world to come crashing down. There is a horrific scene of violence at one point which made me put down the book and not pick it up again until much later. But read on, as the situation rages furiously out of control and we start to see exactly why the two lovers have found themselves in the dock of the old Bailey. Yvonne assumes so much about a man she knows nothing about. We all know how dangerous ‘assuming’ can be.
And through flashbacks we return to Apple Tree Yard and why this is an important part of the court case –
You are familiar aren’t you?’ says Mrs Bonnard in her satin, sinuous voice, ‘with a small back alleyway called Apple Tree Yard.’
She wants everyone in the courtroom , but especially the jury, to know this is a significant moment.
So, the booktrail did the booktrail of the sites in the book, went to Apple Tree Yard where the book exploded into life. The dark alleys, the small, narrow streets, the innocent looking cafes, the Houses of Parliament..
And all the while, men and women in smart grey suits strode past, files under their arms, Ipads in their bags and phones stuck to their ears…could any of them have been Yvonne or her lover?
And what about where they were going and who they were going to meet?
Reading is fun and takes you to so many different places. I’ve had The Gift Of Rain in Malaya , been a wizard at Hogwarts, climbed through the wardrobe into Narnia, taken in the scent of A Midnight Rose in India and gone backpacking with Emily Barr…..
So many books and so little time! But then I discovered Good Reads – short novels of about 100 pages each – quick reads indeed – books you can finish in a short time but still get the enjoyment of meaty fully formed stories.
These books are quite frankly literary midget gems and not only are they a brilliant addition to your library, they serve a very important purpose – encouraging people to read. According to the Quick Reads website –
1 in 6 adults of working age in the UK find reading difficult and may never pick up a book. People’s reasons for not reading are varied but are often based in fear. Some people say they find books scary and intimidating, thinking they are ‘not for them’ or that books are difficult or boring.
Quick Reads sets out to challenge these beliefs and to show that books and reading can be for everyone.
Reading a 400 page novel might seem daunting to some and I know many people who feel that reading is too much effort. Now whilst I may not share their views, I do understand that reading is off putting to those who may not be used to reading or who have not grown up around books. I myself love books since they have taught me languages and helped me to travel and discover some fascinating literature and people, not to mention cultures and music. Kate Morton’s words in particular often come to mind on the subject of books-
After all, it’s the librarian’s sworn purpose to bring books together with their one true reader. (The Distant Hours)
I think now we might say that –
It’s Quick Reads’ sworn purpose to bring books together with their one new reader.
The booktrail therefore is proud to help promote the Quick Reads idea since books and reading around the world are two things we hold most dear at Book Trail towers.
Today is launch day – if you value reading as much as we do – then help us spread the word – give a book (they’re only £1 each), share your stories with someone, read them all yourselves. What ever you do, just be sure that you do it with the Quick Reads idea at the forefront of your mind.
This year we have read some fantastic books and been to some fantastic places so here is our top ten in no particular order to inspire you to travel – via your armchair this Christmas season –
So, there you have it, our top ten books this year. We’d love to hear yours and we do actually have loads more except we couldnt fit them all in. How do you pick only ten? Well based on location and atmosphere, these ten really did pack some punch. And well because I had to include this one –
Well, I guess that makes it 11 – well we best stop there otherwise we’d be here all night adding all our favs. Tomorrow we chose one that has both surprised and amazed us in equal measure. An imaginary location but one which we would love to go back to very very soon…….