Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Monday, 2 May 2022

What have I been reading?

 Was this really for March as well? My goodness, I'm slow! Either that or I've managed to delete some of my ongoing reviews ... Still, some good reads in the last couple of months.

Still Life (Inspector Karen Pirie #6)

Val McDermid, Still Life: Another excellent book in the Karen Pirie series, with two plots and a myriad of twists and turns. I didn’t mind that one of the supposedly puzzling clues was obvious from the start – I think I was just supposed to feel clever for a bit as Karen struggled with it!

Lost Hours (Detective Annie Delamere #2)

Alex Walters, Lost Hours: This is a good police procedural series with interesting, strong characters. I'm enjoying this series very much! See further down for the next one.

Troubled Blood (Cormoran Strike, #5)

Robert Galbraith, Troubled Blood: At over 1,000 pages this weighed heavily on arthritic thumbs, but it was well worth it! A very entertaining read, a further development of the relationship between Robin and Strike, a furthering of their individual stories, and a fascinating plot. Two things were less than pleasing - the title looked like something a publisher had flung at it in an off moment - what on earth did it have to do with anything? And there were quite a few instances of ‘lay’ for ‘laid’ and I actually flicked back to see if I had inadvertently bought an American edition, but apparently not. It grates, though!

Callum and the Mountain

Alan McClure, Callum and the Mountain: This is a book for about ten year olds, set in a fictional town in the west of Scotland and written in a tremendously immediate, chatty, story-telling style that is instantly appealing and often laugh-out-loud funny. There’s quite a bit of Scots in it, all explained at the end if you didn’t quite grasp it in context, but honestly, it just gives the narrative vibrancy. I wasn't completely sure what had happened at the end but that seems deliberate - no one in the book really knows, either. Some of the description is wonderful.

Bad Terms (Detective Annie Delamere #3)

Alex Walters, Bad Terms: I liked the way the old story and the new eventually came together in this story focussed on a private girls’ school. We also learned more about the awkward and unlovely Margaret. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between the main character and her boss, which felt very real to me – not awful, not brilliant, but natural.

Dig Your Own Grave

Carmen Radtke, Dig your own Grave: An intriguing start – an abused wife kills herself, and her old schoolfriend, herself dying from leukemia, swears to stop the husband doing the same thing to another woman. The plot moves so quickly it’s hard to see, at first, how it will last for the whole book. But it is sustained, and I found myself worrying about Marie when I wasn’t anywhere near the book, wondering how it was going to turn out for her. A very enjoyable and thoughtful book.

Death of a Delegate

Cecilia Peartree, Death of a Delegate: the third Max Falconer, starting enjoyably with a trip to a conference in Inverness. Loved the setting and enjoyed the plot, with some of the focus on the hapless Torquil, whom I hope we shall see again, possibly back directing tourists to the House of Bruar. I find the relationship between the two main characters quite odd but intriguing – on the other hand, I think they probably both feel the same way.

The Mermaid's Scream (Wesley Peterson #21)

Kate Ellis, The Mermaid’s Scream: I have a niggling feeling I’ve read this before – bits of it were familiar and bits not at all so. Nevertheless I like this series very much with its mixture of police procedural and archaeological dig, and the overarching plot of the main characters’ home lives. Very enjoyable, whether it’s a repeat or not.

Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Vampire Menace

Olga Wojtas, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace: Tremendously entertaining: the DM wearing librarian heads off to late 19th century rural France to solve a problem she does not even quite identify until nearly the end. Debussy and Mary Garden feature, hilariously, and if it’s all a tremendous muddle it all works out in the end so this very flawed heroine can live to fight another day!


And what's going on here? Well, I'm on the penultimate chapter of the first draft of the current work in progress, which should have been finished last Thursday and have undergone its first edit by now. However, I have no cover ordered for it and no publication date set yet, so I suppose there's no rush! The  next on the list to write is Murray 13, which has the traces of a plot but not even a working title yet, so I'd better get on.

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Letho Observer

 If you're expecting the quarterly newsletter - along with a short story featuring Sigrid this time! - and haven't received it, let us know at contact@kellascatpress.co.uk.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Reading in February - part two

 

Probably a bit of March here, too, to be honest! Again, a mixture, the second half of the alphabet.



Bad Debt

William McIntyre, Bad Debt: Nice start at a funeral in very wet weather, and we continue with a book written with a very dry sense of humour. McIntyre is a practising advocate, and I found myself chuckling quite a bit at the asides of the defence lawyer taking on a client bequeathed to him by a dodgy lawyer friend, while managing his retired footballer brother and his semi-celebrity life. This isn’t the first in the series, but I liked the author in his session at Granite Noir, and needed a book with a purple cover for a reading challenge I’ve joined. There’s a shovelful of legal terminology here but it’s all explained as you go along, which is at a great rate as the plot is pacy. Just as entertaining as the book is the author’s note at the back, which talks of the real-life cases that inspired the book – entertaining, but just a bit worrying!

Sheena Macleod, Tears of Strathnaver: This book demonstrates deft handling of a large cast and neat contrasts between Strathnaver and crofting life and the landlady’s London grandeur. The situations are cleverly evoked and I had a real sense of landscapes, townscapes and buildings. The historical detail was rich, fascinating and not overly-lecturing - I liked the scene where Mhairi is horrified at the danger of burning coal indoors – and the author has woven historical figures like Sellar and McKid into the plot with some conviction. 

The Conversos (The Seton Chronicles #2)

V.E.H. Masters, The ConversosThis is good. The history is rich and thick without being lecturing, the setting completely convincing, the characters strong, real, complex people. There’s delightful detail throughout. Though it’s not the first in the series, the explanations of what has gone before are lightly done to make it an easy read, and the plot is nicely rounded and satisfying even though it clearly leads on to a sequel. I didn’t see the need for it to be written in the present tense, but that’s a personal taste and otherwise this was a very satisfying read – one of those books where you forget you’re reading and feel you are there.

Through His Eyes

Kath Middleton, Through His Eyes: Another cracking read from Middleton. As usual this author has given us lovely real people that you feel you know, which makes what happens to them all the more convincing and alarming! The heroine's struggles over what to tell Tom and how much were so genuine, and the plot was chilling. Loved it.

Bury Them Deep: Inspector McLean 10 (The Inspector McLean Series) by [James Oswald]

James Oswald, Bury Them Deep: Another good installment in the Tony McLean series, one of those that makes you look around Edinburgh and wonder if anywhere is safe.

The Case of the Late Capybara (Max Falconer Mysteries Book 2)

Cecilia Peartree, The Case of the Late Capybara: The second in the Max Falconer series, with the additional appeal of a capybara, albeit a taxidermied one. I like these quirky mysteries very much, and have already bought No.3. These books seem to be set in a world that is more real than Pitkirtly but they are still very good fun.

Isle of Somewhere by [Eileen Rolland]

Eileen Rolland, Isle of Somewhere: Immensely detailed, close narrative of Ros finding her way into a revival of her life after a bad relationship. Her repetitive dreams are intriguing as they develop, and the character of Suzanne does just what she needs to do in the course of the story. The ‘real life’ story of Ros’ mother and her experiences dealing with the medical services after a fall is all too realistic, but the way Ros learns to deal with it all is very appealing and sympathetic.

Silent Tide (DCI Boyd, #1)

Alex Scarrow, Silent Tide: Boyd has just moved to Hastings after a couple of years compassionate leave, and is thrown straight into a murder enquiry with no body, just lots of blood and a few bits of ‘human tissue’. The setting felt alive, the Sussex town of Hastings with its picturesque old town and deprived new parts, its issues with gulls and its relationships with Eastbourne and Brighton. The new team was intriguing, too. While DCI Boyd seems a sympathetic man, I can’t love someone who drapes ketchup over their chips. It’s simply not right. I did love the point, though, where he turns up with his daughter and dog to meet an informer, and I’ll be heading off to the next one.

Alana: A Novel

Palo Stickland, Alana: This novella-length book is a touching portrayal of a young, bereaved woman confused by the loss of her beloved grandfather, and how she comes to terms with her life and finds a place to flourish, in the midst of apparent betrayal and mystery. I found the mystery intriguing, particularly as Alana’s expectations and perceptions of her family shifted and changed in the course of the book. I felt it could have been longer! It would have been fun to see more of some of the characters and their stories.

Lies to Tell (Detective Clare Mackay, #3)

Enlarge coMarian Todd, Lies to Tell: Enjoyed this very much, though I have to wonder at Claire’s personal judgement sometimes! This remains the best contemporary series I know set in St. Andrews, St. Andrews as I recognise it – maybe just my perspective, but I did live there for seven years.

Caesar's Gladiatrix

OAnthony Watt, Caesar’s Gladiatrix: This is a pacy, exciting read, full of action, with bloody and realistic fight scenes and some good strategy and tactics. The main character is strong and striking, and the supporting cast are well-written, too. There’s a good historical basis to the background and a nice sense of the Rome of the period, though the author takes the liberty of deviating from actual history for a dramatic climax.

H.L. Welsh, Flegg Family Gatherings: An intriguing time-slip story for young adults, with a striking cover. This is the third in a series and the cover theme is carried through all three. This is set just after lockdown but written during lockdown, which makes for an interesting perspective – the book’s own little time-slip. The heroine, who is and evidently has been a difficult, slightly prickly person with a very challenging background, mellows even in the course of this story. I liked the way her encounters in the present day and with 16th century family taught her to think differently and to grow as a person.

Greta Yorke / Gemma Jones, Elbo the Elf and the Christmas Hulabaloo: This children’s story book about Santa’s elves is delightful, with a timely moral about spending less time on playing electronic games in bed. There is a good balance of text and illustration, and the illustrations have plenty of clever details for reader and child to find together. There’s also a Scottish touch with Santa’s bonnet and Mrs. Claus’ tartan petticoat. The book is a good size and weight for the intended readership, the cover is bright and Christmassy, and one nice touch is an envelope inside the back cover to hold the reader’s own new year’s resolution.


And what am I doing? Writing a kind of sequel to The Slaughter of Leith Hall - I'm about 3/10 through and it's going, so far, all right, after a slow start. I was ready to begin this last summer but couldn't get into the archive to do the last bit of research. After that's finished, it's Murray's turn again!

Monday, 21 March 2022

Reading in February - part one

 

I'm adding in books this month that I read before Christmas but could not, for various reasons, review till now, so there are so many that I'm dividing the list in two! It's alphabetical, so there is no distinction between the two lists. Bit more variety than usual!

The Windsor Knot

S.J. Bennet, The Windsor Knot: This is a witty book with H.M. the Queen as a subtle investigator, moving behind the scenes to solve a murder in Windsor Castle with the help of her assistant private secretary, Rozie. I don’t know what the Queen herself might think of it but it is certainly written with affection and tremendous humour. I may well look out for the next one.

The Painter and the Sea

Tom Binnie, The Painter and the Sea: This book comes into its own when the narrative settles in a place like Kirkcaldy or parts of the Low Countries and describes everyday life. There is a good deal of research evident and some nice little details - I enjoyed the idea of the council struggling for funds – sounds all too real! – and the kirk ‘overseeing’ the town, and the descriptions of 1730s Edinburgh really came alive.  The characters were interesting and quite well rounded – I particularly liked van Reit and his attitude to death, and the relationship between Rose and Adam Smith. I had not previously seen much of Adam Smith and David Hume fictionalised, and Hume in particular seems well fitted for it. The cover image is lovely, and the incidental portrayal of the cat is charming.

Just One Day - Winter (Just One Day , #1)

Susan Buchanan, Just One Day: A very realistic narrator given to over-achieving and seeking things to worry about, all of which she tries to control with to-do lists. I read this in two sittings and felt I was in Louisa’s world with all her stresses and emotions. The plot was intriguing though, as with real life, it had its ups and downs, and I had not expected the ending which sets things up well for a sequel.

Mary Rosie's War

Catherine M. Byrne, Mary Rosie’s War: This is a good yarn, set mostly on the shore of the Pentland Firth and also in various air force postings. Both physical settings and period feel are well executed - some research has gone into this but it is very naturally written. Many books of this type are simply done with one ‘romantic’ plot but this one is made more interesting by the inclusion of a sad, but ultimately satisfying, subplot that weaves in and out of the characters’ lives. The only drawback was that I thought the ending came a little too abruptly – the story could have been stretched to another book of the same length and been very enjoyable!

Piranesi

Susanna Clarke, Piranesi; I finished this book lateish at night and couldn’t decide if it had a message I was too stupid to decipher or was just plain mysterious. It was in some ways an easy read with charming and slightly na├»ve descriptions of the House, the setting, which is a very strange, ruinous place. Gradually clues appear hinting at what might be going on, and while the narrator seems pretty ignorant about the whole set-up the reader starts to realise that there is more behind the scenes. Did I enjoy it? I think so. Would I read it again? Probably not: it’s somewhat melancholic, and there’s a tragedy to it, even in its beauty.

One for Sorrow (D.I. Callanach #7)

Helen Fields, One for Sorrow: Are British post mortems really recorded in imperial measurements? A bit surprising if so. And the obnoxious Liam seemed to be straight out of New York. I didn’t enjoy this as much as others in this series, which is a shame as I really loved the earlier books – at times, unfortunately, I felt as if my feelings were being manipulated (I know writers do this all the time, that’s what a book is, but this time it felt somehow cynical), and it had a distinctly American feel, which is odd. And goodness, the criminal’s trophy wall – surely this has been over done? Nevetheless the plotting was beautiful, the structure really impressive.

Cauldstane

Linda Gillard, Cauldstane: This is fun, a ghost writer moving to live in a Highland castle while she helps the laird write his autobiography in the hope that it will inject a bit of cash into the dwindling family coffers. The family stories she finds are more immediate and tragic than she expects when the ghost writer meets a ghost.

Silencing the Dead (Scott Jericho #2)

Will Harker, Silencing the Dead: You might struggle to get into this book if you hadn’t read the first in the series, but if you have and it’s a little while ago the first chapter or so is a great aide-memoire. I like some of the description – this is of a haunted rectory: ‘The overall effect was one of clutter and disorder, as if the architect had been unable to bear contemplating any single part of his design for too long.’ Scott Jericho is not a happy soul and once again tangles himself in a nasty and complicated plot here.

Deleted (Love and the Village #1)

Sylvia Hehir, Deleted: From the cover illustration, which made me laugh, I thought at first this was chicklit, but the back material makes the book’s genre much clearer, and the brief prologue was very enticing. I did not much like the main character to start with, and found it a little hard to place her in age terms, but felt that was probably deliberate – she was at a transitional point in her life and had to grow into a better understanding of her parents. In a way this is an odd story involving young love, old resentments, and a bit of the supernatural, but ultimately it’s a satisfying read.

Northwind (Robert Hoon Thrillers, #1)

J.D. Kirk, Northwind: This is a spin-off from the Logan series of crime novels set in the north of Scotland, full of irreverent hilarity – don’t read if you don’t like swear words, though. Here I missed the rest of the team as Hoon, a retired, discredited senior officer, set off on his own to rescue a friend’s missing daughter in London, but it was as hilarious as the Logan series. I liked the way the plot was woven into the Logan episode, Cold as the Grave, which I happened to be reading around the same time  - had a real life feel to it but would not prevent them being enjoyed separately.

Colder than the Grave (DCI Logan Crime Thrillers #12)

J.D. Kirk, Colder than the Grave: The mixture of noir and daft hilarity we’ve come to expect – painful to read sometimes, but for wildly differing reasons.

Dangerous Destiny

Chris Longmuir, Dangerous Destiny: Quite a lot of detailed historical information has to be available to the reader right from the start of this book, which puts pressure on a writer to lecture. This is avoided here: there’s still a good deal to take in but it is layered in the narrative. The writer has opted not to go for too much language of the period and there are few challenges here for a modern reader in that sense. Enticing, exciting plot, a sound historical setting and interesting characters – what else do we need?

No Song in a Strange Land

Marion Macdonald, No Song in a Strange Land: A light touch brings the characters to life and the setting is good. It’s an easy, entertaining read, but not without its tragedy, written a little naively in the voice of Chrissie as she finds her way into an unexpected marriage. I enjoyed the portrayal of her rather up-and-down relationship with her husband and ultimately with her step-daughter, too, and the depiction of life in Canada, and the journeys there and back, was interesting. Details about tuberculosis, public reaction and treatment were unexpected and intriguing, particularly the women’s mutual support groups. I’d have liked to have heard more about the two little boys and their experience!


There, that's the first batch - lots of fun!

Wednesday, 9 February 2022

Reading in December and January

 And late even for January! Work has been very busy recently - that's my excuse.



Well, now, what have I been reading? Only about half will be visible here, as I've been lucky enough to have a stack of books to work through for a competition I've been asked to adjudicate. Some of those might appear later, once the results are safely out! Here's the non-competition stuff.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

Sydney Padua, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: A graphic novel, starting with a witty historical synopsis of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, then, clearly feeling that Lovelace’s short life doesn’t give enough scope for fun, postulating that their lives continued in an alternative and, inevitably, steampunk, existence. Hooray! There are loads of explanatory footnotes and references (in fact, even the endnotes have footnotes, and at one point the footnotes start arguing back), many of them very funny, even if some details have gone through an American mill and come out a bit mangled. If you don’t learn something about mathematics and computing from this then … well, you probably knew more than I did to start with. But I was impressed!

Death at the Beggar's Opera (John Rawlings Book 2)

Deryn Lake, Death at the Beggar’s Opera: We continue with the extraordinarily long sentences and copious period detail here, as well as the irritating habit of calling the main character the Apothecary. There’s some good stuff about the theatre and some interesting descriptions of bits of what are now London, but I do feel as if I’m wading a bit. It took me a while to finish it as I kept going off to other things. This is one of those occasions where I've bought a box set and feel I need to work my way through it - on other occasions I've grown to enjoy the series very much through a box set, so we'll see where this one goes.

Ardnish Was Home (Ardnish #1)

Angus MacDonald, Ardnish Was Home: A lovely bit of writing, moving between memories of Highland life (the good version, with intelligent, involved landlords) and an account of Gallipoli, from the view of a wounded soldier and the woman nursing him. The ending, though ... hm. Not so sure.

The Darkening Sky (Sister Agnes #7)

OthrAlison Joseph, The Darkening Sky: This is No.4 (according to Amazon - No.7 according to GoodReads - should check FantasticFiction) in the Sister Agnes series – hadn’t realised when I picked it up – but it’s smoothly written and I didn’t even think as I read it that I’d missed anything. An alcoholic ex-squaddy dies in a street fight after leaving a homeless shelter, but the mourners who turn up for his funeral bring more questions than answers. As Sister Agnes is also wrestling with the commitment of taking her vows, and bad news about a friend’s health. she begins to look into the matter of the man’s death. I enjoyed this from the start: Agnes is an interesting and sympathetic character and her friends, Athena and Julius, are striking, and some characters really surprise as the book goes on.

The Firemaker (China Thrillers, #1)

Peter May, The Firemaker: This is the first in his China series, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as the French series (or even the Hebrides series) – while one main character grew on me, the other did not at all, which was a shame. Nevertheless it was extremely well written, of course, well plotted and with intense atmosphere and feel for place.

RANCOUR (DI Munro & DS West #8)

Pete Brassett: Rancour. I think I’ve read one of these before. They’re entertaining but a bit chaotic, and if police interviews are really as they’re depicted it’s a wonder any crime is solved. The sentences are nearly as long as Cicero’s – one goes on for half a page – and the style is idiosyncratic and occasionally hard to follow, with amazing similes. Sometimes I find the characters confusing – must be getting old. But as I say, entertaining.

Killer on the Fens (DI Nikki Galena, #4)

Joy Ellis, Killer on the Fens: I loved the two constables being spooked on the marsh. This one felt a bit as if everything had been thrown at it but it was as enjoyable as the others.

Stalker on the Fens (DI Nikki Galena, #5)

Joy Ellis, Stalker on the Fens: a dramatic opening with a massive road traffic accident minutes from where our two main characters are. It’s just a background bit of information, though, for the rest of the plot, which is an intriguing tale of the death of an alternative therapist. I didn’t think when I picked up the first book that I would have enjoyed reading to the end of the fifth, but I have – these books have a definite charm and the characters grow well.

The House at Ettrick Bay

Myra Duffy, The House at Ettrick Bay: I loathed Simon on sight but the situation was fairly interesting – a friend unexpectedly inheriting a large and delapidated house on Bute with an archaeological (the word always pulls me in) dig about to start just outside. The plot is linked with the history of the place though not, perhaps, the way one might at first think. The descriptions of the island were very enticing!

The Case of The Curious Client (Bow Street Society #1)

T.G. Campbell, The Case of the Curious Client: The historical detail is absolutely comprehensive and persuasive here but we’re straight into the action with a strange set of people, an artist, an incompetent and clumsy journalist and a laid-back Canadian doctor in Victorian London. It’s not quite clear why they volunteer together to investigate crimes and their leader, Miss Trent, is a very odd character for the time. I wasn’t sure about the Americanisms and the accents – they seemed a bit muddled to my cloth ears – but I was prepared to push through by that time and enjoy the ride, and the charm of the book increases as it goes along.

Where the Ocean Meets the Sky

Barbara Stevenson, Where the Ocean meets the Sky: This collection of short stories (one of them pushing novella-length) is completely mad in a wonderful way. There are operatic owls, sailor cats, creepy churchyards, imaginary islands and an enchanted library book … each story is unexpected and spins with its own warped logic – a really entertaining read.

A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree (Inspector Singh Investigates #4)

Shamini Flint, Inspector Singhy Investigates: A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree: This looks like a cosy but it certainly doesn’t start that way, with a youngster watching a father’s death under the Khmer Rouge. The setting, a war crimes tribunal, was familiar and well set up, though the one I’ve visited in Africa was less complicated and aggrandised. The Singaporean police detective, Singh, was intriguing and entertaining to spend time with, and I liked his temporary Cambodian sidekick with her own sad history. The plot flips and flops back and forth and comes to a surprising conclusion. If you want a similar setting and a quirky crime series, I’d recommend Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri Paboun series set in Laos.

No Refuge: A thrilling murder mystery with a big twist

Nicola Clifford, No Refuge: This looks like a dark book but starts more like a cosy crime, though watch out. The author has disregarded the golden rule – don’t kill the dog/cat! In the first few pages we have a dead dog, and incidentally a murder, in a Welsh village. The heroine, with a police boyfriend, is journalist Stacey, always trying to make a joke of things and often getting it wrong. She’s one of those local reporters who uses her friends to get information and sticks her nose in everywhere, so it took me a while to warm to her though I did like the setting in rural Wales. To the heroine’s credit, she’s good at the outdoors – knows what to wear and how the wildlife behave, and it was that that began to win me over. I also liked the fact that we get to see what the police are doing, too – it’s not just the view from a reporter. In the end this was an exciting read and I’d go back for more.

Murder in Court Three (Flick Fortune and Baggo Chandavarkar, #3)

Ian Simpson, Murder in Court Three: This is not the first in this series but I didn’t feel that mattered too much – the story stands well on its own. Set amongst the noblesse de la robe of Edinburgh, the author’s own experience of the legal profession shines through and the cast of characters is broad and interesting. It’s another traditional murder mystery, and the plot is satisfying.


Not a bad couple of months' reading, all in all! I'm pacing myself on one or two series, James Oswald's and J.D. Kirk's, so as not to rush through them.


And what am I doing? Very, very little, if I'm honest. I'm supposed to be plotting (should really have started writing) a kind of follow-up to The Slaughter of Leith Hall, a follow-up in the sense that Charlie Robb is probably going to be the main character, but it's set twenty-one years later. I've had a lot to deal with recently, and I hope that's the only reason I haven't really got going with it, and not that it's just a dud!