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. 

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“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.

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“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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March 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)March proved a fallow month as my reviewing mojo seemed to temporarily desert me- only four books reviewed- slapped wrists! I also seemed to spend too much time giving some books the benefit of the doubt, and read past my forty page rule with dire results. I persisted with one for 200+ pages (out of 700), but just couldn’t face any more of it, and a few others fell by the wayside too.  However, to even up my reviewing this round-up includes a couple more that I didn’t get around to reviewing in March, so keep reading…

April will definitely prove more fruitful where I am taking part in four blog tours for David Jackson- A Tapping At My Door, Manda Jennings- In Her Wake, C. J. Carver- Spare Me The Truth and Melissa Ginsburg- Sunset City. There are also a few releases from March to race through, and a plethora of great crime fiction publishing scheduled for April and May. Exciting times for crime fiction fans. Also I would implore you to catch up with the televisual treat that is Follow The Money– a terrific new Scandi-drama currently airing on BBC4- featuring mesmerising performances from Bo Larsen and Natalie Madueno- it’s brilliant! Am also slightly in mourning at the end of The Night Manager which was totally gripping and kept me hooked, but have high hopes for its replacement Undercover starring Sophie Okonedo and Adrian Lester in the 9pm Sunday night slot on the jolly old BBC. We shall see…

Books read and reviewed:

Quentin Bates- Thin Ice

Kate McQuaile- What She Never Told Me

 Yusuf Toropov- Jihadi: A Love Story

Katie Medina- Fire Damage

I also read…

9781910477250_190x290Pascal Garnier- Too Close To The Edge

Recently widowed grandmother Éliette is returning to her home in the mountains when her micro-car breaks down. A stranger comes to her aid on foot. Éliette offers him a lift, glad of the interruption to her humdrum routine. That night, her neighbours’ son is killed in a road accident. Could the tragedy be linked to the arrival of her good Samaritan?

Being a confirmed devotee of the late, great, Pascal Garnier, it was lovely to discover another of his bijou, but dark and disturbing treats. He has such a singular knack for taking the reader into a surprising and,  at times, darkly humorous direction in such a compressed length of fiction, and Too Close To The Edge is no exception. After a rustic and genteel opening charting the life of widow Eliette newly ensconced in her French rural retreat, Garnier disrupts the apparent new-found harmony of her life in an exceptionally violent manner, with sex, drugs and twisted emotions, coming to thwart her peaceful existence, but also allowing her room to discover elements of life that she has had no experience of, and the change her perception of the world undergoes through this. It’s deft, violent, funny and perfect, further demonstrating the void that the much-loved Garnier leaves in his wake.

(With thanks to Gallic for the ARC)

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Steffen Jacobsen- Retribution

On a warm Autumn afternoon, Tivoli Gardens – Denmark’s largest amusement park – is devastated by a terrorist attack. 1,241 people are killed. The unknown bomber is blown to bits; the security forces have no leads. One year later, the nation is still reeling, and those behind the attack are still at large. Amidst the increasingly frustrated police force, Superintendent Lene Jensen is suffering the effects of tragedy closer to home. Everyone is aware the terrorists may soon strike again. Then Lene receives a strange call. A young desperate Muslim woman needs her help, but by the time Lene reaches her she’s already dead – supposedly suicide. Already suspicious, Lene’s initial investigations suggest that the woman was unknowingly part of a secret services research project. Silenced by her superiors, Lene turns to her old ally Michael Sander to dig deeper. But with even her allies increasingly adamant her actions are a risk to national security, Lene begins to understand that finding the truth might be the most dangerous thing of all.

As part of my mission to get everyone in the world reading Danish crime author Steffen Jacobsen ( I’ve previously reviewed When The Dead Awaken and Trophy ) this is his latest. With recent events in Brussels a stark reminder of the danger posed by terrorist action, Jacobsen addresses this theme sensitively, but with brutal honesty throughout the book. Jacobsen constructs a twisting and pulsating examination of the difficulties faced by the security services and police in thwarting terrorism, and takes the reader from homeland Denmark to the Middle East in the course of the story. By presenting the reader with numerous viewpoints of the war on terror, and the innocents and not-so-innocent caught up in its wake, there is always a sense of brutal reality to his writing, without the gung-ho one dimensional view of events so often seen in thriller writing with this particular premise.

There is a real sensitivity in Jacobsen’s writing that makes the reader sit up and think about the events and people he portrays, not only with the prescient events of the book, but also in the additional exploration he makes into psychological territory, particularly evident in the character of Superintendent Lene Jensen, who for my money is one of the most roundly formed, well-written, and interesting police protagonists in the Scandinavian genre. Indeed, Jacobsen exhibits a masterly touch with all of his female protagonists from Lene herself to her boss Charlotte Falster, and mercurial psychologist Irene Adler. He imbues all of these characters with a welcome balance of strength, intelligence and wit, along with a necessary Achilles Heel that is never in detriment to our overall perception of them, but increases our respect and empathy, and more importantly makes them believable. With such an assured use of characterisation, and his natural ability of damn fine storytelling, Jacobsen seldom disappoints, and this tale will keep you on your toes, and totally gripped throughout. A clever, exciting and very readable thriller.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

Raven’s Book of The Month

….is delayed until next month as choosing just one book from only six reviewed seemed a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child. So these excellent six will be added to April’s tally and there may even be more than one book of the month. Who knows?

See you in April!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour- Yusuf Toropov- Jihadi: A Love Story- Review #Jihadi #BlogTour

4Well, this blog tour for Yusuf Toropov’s Jihadi: A Love Story is on to the final furlong, but stopping off today here at Raven Crime Reads for a review of this clever and thought-provoking book…

A former intelligence agent stands accused of terrorism, held without charge in a secret overseas prison. His memoir is in the hands of a brilliant but erratic psychologist whose annotations paint a much darker picture. As the story unravels, we are forced to assess the truth for ourselves, and decide not only what really happened on one fateful overseas assignment, but who is the real terrorist. Peopled by a diverse and unforgettable cast of characters, whose reliability as narrators is always questioned, and with a multi-layered plot heaving with unexpected and often shocking developments, Jihadi: A Love Story is an intelligent thriller that asks big questions. Complex, intriguing and intricately woven, this is an astonishing debut that explores the nature of good and evil alongside notions of nationalism, terrorism and fidelity, and, above all, the fragility of the human mind…

Suffused with unreliable narrators, shifting timelines and locations, addendums to the text encased in grey boxes with a miniscule font, and short diversions from reality, this is not an easy read, and attention must be paid throughout. I really found that a few precious moments reading time snatched throughout the day were not conducive to the pleasure of reading this book, and only when reading substantial sections at a time did the real intelligence and cleverness of this book impact on me more. It is also by extension, one of the most difficult books I have had to review, so bear with me…

The nature of the writing from the outset is challenging, and you may feel a little ‘all-at-sea’ when first embarking on this, until the characters gain a foothold in your mind, and the swift changes of narrative begin to establish a pattern and rhythm. But beware because, as a further ramification of this initial state of confusion, you will be further toyed with by Toropov as things happen, both cruel and unusual that will surprise and shock you in equal measure, further heightening the strange state of unreality, and the pure unpalatable truths of reality that the author seeks to convey. In simple terms, the whole book reads as a memoir, narrated by an American special operative on his return from a particularly ill-fated incursion into an unnamed Islamic state, and the characters and incidents that impact on his personal experience. However, this story then delineates to address far bigger themes, amongst them, the nefarious grasp of religious radicalism counterbalanced by the beauty of true religion, feminism, love and loss, and the clash of cultures that leads to violence and human collateral damage. Consequently, the essential style of this book is difficult to pinpoint as it reads like T. S. Eliot, fused with Homeland, with a soundtrack of The Beatles The White Album (referred to in the aforementioned grey boxes), interspersed with references to the Koran, whilst ultimately fulfilling its criteria as a heightened socially, and culturally aware, literary thriller.

Every single character within the book is shrewdly drawn, causing a gamut of emotions within the reader themselves, from the appalling actions of Mazzoni, an American marine, the religious rabble rousing of Abu Islam, the road to conversion of our main narrator Thelonius himself, and my favourite character Fatima, a good Islamic woman whose personal experiences lead her on an unexpected but completely justified path to revenge and retribution. Between all the protagonists we bear witness to the very best and worst of human behaviour, their prejudices and goodness, and how the predatory nature of some individuals wreaks havoc on the innocent, and undermines our faith in each other. This blend of assured characterisation to pass comment on issues that ultimately affect us all is extremely cleverly done, not with browbeating and preaching, but with a thought-provoking and subtle prod for us to consider our own responses to these weighty issues.

So shut out the world, turn off that phone, ramp up The White Album by The Beatles, and devote time to this to appreciate it fully. It is a challenging and, at times, a difficult read, but this is a good thing. Embrace it, and I think you’ll find this a pleasingly different reading experience.

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(With thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for the ARC)

 

Catch up with, or continue to follow this excellent blog tour at the sites below…

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