Raven’s Yearly Round-Up and Top 5 Crime Reads 2016

 

largeWell, what a perfectly horrible year we’ve all had. War, poverty, death, and selfishness on a dizzying scale has defined 2016. We’ve had political meltdown, and our country is now floundering due to the 52% of the British people who really should not have been allowed anywhere near the Brexit vote, by reason of their gross stupidity. (Don’t even get me started on Theresa ‘we know you’re struggling but we don’t give a toss’ May). Then, to cap it all,  the weirdness of the U.S. voting system allowing the ascendancy of one of the most xenophobic and misogynistic individuals to the most powerful position imaginable and I refuse to even utter his name.  Also, I know I am not alone in having personal strife this year too. Yes. It’s all been a bit crap.

book-love-books-to-read-23017145-619-463But, gather round bookish friends and let’s take a moment to rejoice in the good stuff- ‘the books, the books’, I hear you cry. It’s been a superb year for crime fiction this year, and I have discovered some absolute gems along the way. So here’s how Raven’s reading year panned out…

(click on the book jackets for reviews)

 

DEBUT-TASTIC!

With 90+ books reviewed and over 150 read during the year, 2016 has been a bumper year for some damn, fine fiction. (Still 40+ non-starters but we’ll move swiftly on).  I was particularly struck by the quality of the debut authors I have encountered this year. A couple will be featuring in my Top 5, so aside from them, special mentions, and a round of applause to the following…

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THAT DIFFICULT SECOND BOOK…

Also wanted to highlight those authors that blew me away in 2015 with their debuts, and who have now produced second books, the equal of, or even better than their first foray into the world of crime fiction…

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6c217d7a427ef735dcbf85b02b5c40a4AND STILL IT GOES ON….

In last year’s round-up I wrote this… It seems that only by dwelling at the outer reaches of the Arctic Circle could you escape the hype surrounding The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. And yet the Raven was unmoved by the sheer intensity of the praise heaped upon this book on its release, and the ensuing avalanche of ‘domestic noir’ thrillers that it helped spawn. There again I didn’t like Gone Girl either. I am the domestic noir Grinch. Enough already.” Unfortunately, I still failed to heed my own advice, and have either abandoned at the 40 page mark, or trawled all the way through on pain of death, a substantial number more of these over the last 12 months.

Resolution for 2017? Quoth the Raven. Nevermore.

Not a single dopey domestic noir thriller will grace my blog in the next year.

WORDS FAILED ME…BUT IN A GOOD WAY…

492ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaAlthough I am not the most prolific of bloggers, and tend to give breathing/thinking space between finishing books and writing a review, there are some books that with fingers poised over keyboard that prove excessively difficult to review, because they are so damn weird/clever/thought provoking/intense (delete as applicable). Courtesy of Orenda Books, two such books have crossed my path this year, and never has it taken me so long to try and write reviews that reflect the sheer cleverness and thought provoking intensity of these two. Mr Yusuf Toropov, Mr Michael Grothaus, I salute you…

fb929b12453a2ce028c765b5197b1a04THE TBR PILE…

Yes, the behemoth of the TBR mountain looms large on my conscience, but to be honest, there are worse problems to have, and no, I am not going to count the number of books vying for my attention. Have started making a dent with my commute to work, which has afforded me the opportunity to finally get round to reading some excellent authors who had slipped the net, for example Eva Dolan, Neil Broadfoot and Helen Cadbury, and some quirky crime in translation too. I’ll keep chipping away…for at least the next ten years…or more…

And so to the winners, no prizes, but big thanks for your sparkling and enthralling books. Not all of these achieved Book of The Month status but have remained resolutely in the Raven’s mind all year…

Raven’s Top 5 (ish) Books of the Year

5.

A RISING MAN

“Not only is the writing whip smart and intuitive with a clever and engaging plot, but the depth of the historical research to so vividly portray the teeming life of this beautiful, yet socially and racially torn, outpost of the former British Empire, sings from every page.”

4.

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“A genuinely terrific thriller; clever, well-researched and beautifully executed, as the action ebbed and flowed, keeping me on tenterhooks throught. There’s scheming, corruption, violence, and a strong sense of the personal cost that power, political envy and money can bring in its wake.”

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“This is an intelligent, thoughtful and emotionally compelling read, peopled by a sublime cast of characters and a balanced and realistic portrayal of weighty issues, firmly located in the fascinating and tumultuous period of post war America. Cut through with moments of raw emotion, thought-provoking social observation, and never less than totally engrossing, Darktown is something really quite special indeed.”

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“There are moments of genuine tension carefully interspersed with warmth and humour, as this band of misfits, for various reasons, go about their daily lives, with the overriding urge to make personal and emotional connections with friends, lovers and relatives. It’s wonderfully plotted, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

What do you mean, that’s cheating?

They are all set in America.

(My excuse and I’m sticking to it)

3. 

bird

“It’s dark, psychologically tense and packed full of emotion both overt or deliberately disguised, with the reader invited to fill the spaces between.”

2.

dod“The writing is flawless throughout with Beverly being as comfortable with the rat-a-tat rhythm of the young teenagers’ dialogue, and conveying the brutality of their world, to describing elements of the landscape they travel through with the lyricism of some of the best naturalistic American writers.”

1.

blood

“As a crime reader, precise plotting, the control of suspense, and believable characterisation lay at the core of my reading pleasure, and Lemaitre achieves this beautifully throughout. The plot twists are in no way reliant on the suspension of disbelief, or clumsily wrought, leading to a genuinely intriguing, and utterly enthralling, example of psychological suspense.”

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All the best for 2017 everyone

and just remember…

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June 2016 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)I’ve already had my say about the farcical EU referendum, and the ensuing anger and unease that accompanied its outcome, so let’s get onto the fun stuff:  the books, the books. This has been a very productive month for the Raven in terms of books read, and if you’re currently considering what to be reading over the summer there are some real crackers here…

SJI Holliday- Willow Walk

Bill Daly- Cutting Edge

Chris Ewan- Long Time Lost

Jack Grimwood- Moskva

A. A. Dhand- Streets Of Darkness

Gunnar Staalesen- Where Roses Never Die

Michael Grothaus- Epiphany Jones

Emma Cline- The Girls

Eric Rickstad- The Silent Girls

Colin Winnette- Haint Stay 

Colin Winnette- Coyote  

John Sweeney- Cold

The additional good news is that I have another four reviews waiting in the wings- Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh, Simon Booker- Without Trace, Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing and Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding. July is an absolute corker for crime publishing and there are further treats in store.

20 booksHowever, my 20 Books of Summer Challenge hosted by Cathy at 746books.com is progressing less well than expected. I have read the giddy total of…2… mmmm… not great. So I will hang fire on posting reviews for these two until I can provide a more fulsome post for you… *slapped wrists* (However, Raven’s mum has read 7 of her 20 picks. That’s just plain showing off…).

 

Raven’s Book of the Month

I can honestly say that June has been a reading pleasure, and pretty much all of the list above entertained, gripped or thrilled me to some degree. I was particularly taken with SJI Holliday’s Willow Walk, Jack Grimwood’s Moskva, and the bearded genius that is Colin Winnette.

92ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaAnd speaking of bearded genius, the accolade of Book of the Month goes to the hirsute Michael Grothaus for the truly extraordinary, unsettling and singularly strange Epiphany Jones. A book that repulsed, mystified and enchanted me in equal measure, and one that rolled around my subconscious for days after reading. As I said in my review, it’s not for everyone, but this one thought it was just swell.

Blog Tour- Michael Grothaus- Epiphany Jones- Review

92ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaJerry has a traumatic past that leaves him subject to psychotic hallucinations and depressive episodes. When he stands accused of stealing a priceless Van Gogh painting, he goes underground, where he develops an unwilling relationship with a woman who believes that the voices she hears are from God. Involuntarily entangled in the illicit world of sex-trafficking amongst the Hollywood elite, and on a mission to find redemption for a haunting series of events from the past, Jerry is thrust into a genuinely shocking and outrageously funny quest to uncover the truth and atone for historical sins…

Entering the surreal and dark world  of Epiphany Jones is very much akin to being thrown out of an aeroplane and spiralling into a freefall with the initial euphoric feeling that, yes there is a rip cord,  but then being stricken by the fear that this rip cord may well malfunction. From the outset you will be repulsed, gripped, endlessly unsettled, and yet strangely moved, as you become more deeply enmeshed in the scatological and disturbing world of a certain Mr Jerry Dresden…

I will confess that on embarking reading this book there was an overwhelming sense of just what the hell is going on here, and who the hell is this crass, sexually gauche and downright weird individual that I am meant to be engaging with? But, I promise you wholeheartedly, that as much as your teeth are set on edge by the sheer social awkwardness and sexual ineptitude of Dresden, it is a testament to the bravery and cleverness of Grothaus’ writing that every preconception you initially hold will be fundamentally challenged as the story progresses. It’s a risky strategy, but what is life without a little bit of risk taking, and producing writing that genuinely challenges and stretches your reader? Such is the case with Grothaus’ unique approach in the characterisation of both Dresden, and the manipulative and deeply emotionally scarred Epiphany Jones, who crashes in to Dresden’s small world with the power of a heat seeking missile. Grappling with his own psychotic delusions, Dresden is inveigled in a world of blackmail, violence and exploitation that proves as much as an epiphany to his own sense of self, as the fractured and dangerous world of Epiphany threatens to destroy them both. At one point Dresden comments that he feels ‘like a figment, of a figment, of a figment’ as the unreliability of formative memories and the blurring of truth and lies, the real and the unreal are consistently explored both in his character and that of Epihany herself.  As the powerfully emotive details of Epiphany’s manipulation and abuse, within the world of sex trafficking come to the fore, there is a reshaping and shifting of Dresden’s character that is joyous to behold. When these two characters are not directly interacting with each other there is a palpable lull in the tension of the book, that Grothaus ramps up when their paths cross again setting up a compelling ebb and flow to the rhythm of their relationship, and giving a real vitality to the characterisation throughout, superbly manipulating and toying with the readers’ emotional responses to both.

I think it’s worth reiterating here that if you want to get a real  handle on the dark social and political recesses of any society, that crime fiction is the most reliable narrative form to accomplish this, and this book demonstrates this beautifully. Not only does this book present us with a stark, and painfully truthful, depiction of the nefarious world of sex trafficking, made all the more powerful by the reportage style of Epiphany’s testament, but also challenges and plays with the reader’s sensibilities, and view of the world consistently. So along the way you will also encounter God, cybersex, the overblown world of celebrity, social alienation, and psychotic disturbance, in a sharp, acerbic style and at times underscored with a humour of the blackest black, and top notch satirical observation, which was hugely appreciated by this reader.

Epiphany Jones is a real seat of the pants read, and utterly uncompromising. It’s graphic, visceral, mordantly funny, thought provoking and at times profoundly moving. It’s not for all, but it was certainly all for this one. I absolutely loved it, and big kudos from the Raven for Mr  Grothaus for such clever, risk-taking and challenging fiction writing. Highly recommended.

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Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites

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