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

Wednesday 1 May 2019

April Reading

And yet the to-be-read pile never decreases!

Funny gaps going on here so just keep scrolling down. And the cover above (if it appears when I publish this blog) is copied down below, too, so there you are, Cecilia, a little accidental double-coverage!
Right, this month's challenge books, starting with the non-fiction:

Ben Law: Woodsman - I knew nothing of Ben Law beyond what I had seen in the famous Grand Designs episode – the man who built his house in the woods, of the woods, in order to make his living there. This book tells the story of how he came to live in those woods after travelling in South America and eastern Europe, his motivation and the experience that led him to do the job he does. It touches almost as much on his previous residences in the same woods as on the famous and delightful house he built while being filmed, only, he said, never having heard of the programme, because the film crew who were supposed to be filming it for training purposes pulled out at the last minute. There is a great deal about charcoal burning and coppicing, choosing trees for an orchard and harvesting nuts, and maybe even slightly too much about sweet chestnut in all its uses – he is clearly an enthusiast. The penultimate chapter is close to a manifesto on what we should be doing to live more sustainably, and the final chapter (though there is an epilogue) foresees his village in 2037 after the ‘oil crisis’, putting that sustainable living into action after our present social and political system has suffered a catastrophic (or perhaps beneficial) shock. A little strangely written, educated but with some spikiness and a lot of repetition which could have benefitted from an edit, this is nevertheless an enjoyable read. The illustrations are charming but I found that I should have liked more diagrams to explain things, and the glossary only told me the meanings of words I already knew – there were various timber-related terms, perhaps local to Sussex, with which I was unfamiliar: as an educational book it just didn’t quite educate me enough for my liking! But perhaps that was not what it set out to do. As a memoir it was lovely.
Non-crime fiction:
Amusing and intriguing. Disrupted timelines –starting the story in the middle, zipping forwards and backwards, and the narrator cheekily playing with the reader, confounding expectations just, it seems, because they are there to be confounded. It’s undoubtedly a clever book, and a – as it were – well-read book, raising all kinds of questions about scientific practice, the history of psychology and relations between humans and animals, and the narrator throws clues over her shoulder for us to pick up or miss as our own alertness allows. If that sounds too clever to be an easy read, then rest assured: you’ll find yourself whipping through this far too fast and having to go back and reconsider the ideas in greater depth when you’ve had your fun.
Now for the crime:
Crow's Cottage: A Supernatural Thriller (Where the Dead Walk Book 2) by [Bowen, John]
I felt I’d read this before -I think it echoes bits of the Merrily Watkins series by Phil Rickman through which I am happily working. Nevertheless it’s a good read: a crime novel with a strong supernatural twist, as it’s set amongst people who produce a television ghost-hunting programme. Don’t be put off if you don’t fancy that kind of thing: it’s actually quite sensibly done (and I say that as someone who enjoys a touch of the paranormal in crime, but this is a level-headed interpretation), with interesting characters and a back story that will carry us nicely into future books. The plot worked well and there were just enough twists and turns to raise a few question marks. I’d like to read more of this series - and I've just discovered I started with book 2.

The Angel Monument,Kath Middleton A period piece this time from this clever and versatile author, and she transfers her skills well to the Georgian period, with a bracketing and chilling contemporary setting. The suspense is carefully handled (who do the three angelic heads really represent?), and the supernatural thread is all too believable. Nevertheless the realistic characters, and their reactions to the misfortunes thrown at them, are as always her principal achievements. I was almost in tears at two points over the poor serving maid in particular. Another readable and lovely book.

Murder by Request (The Agnes Merryweather Mysteries Book 1) by [Wilcox, Lynda]
Murder by Request,Lynda Wilcox: The author of the excellent Verity Long series has played a nice little move by opting to write the series invented by her own character, Kay Davenport. Agnes Merryweather is a wise vicar in a country parish, with a trusted friend in the local constabulary. Healing rifts and spreading calm in the community, Agnes sorts out murders as if they were slightly troublesome issues with the intercessions rota. Yet, as with the Verity Long series, there is depth here: the characters are well drawn and the relationships real and convincing. 

Death in Dulwich,Alice Castle: Unless you are a particular lover of Dulwich, this gets off to rather a slow start, and even when it speeds up in the middle I found the main character rather irritating. She acts irrationally, hiding evidence from the police, and is rather a bad archivist, too. The other characters (with the exception of the main character’s fringe, which is mentioned quite often enough to feature on any dramatis personae on its own account) are cardboardy and while there is some good description, some oddly-sitting dips into the dark side, and a couple of lovely asides (‘By a cruel twist of fate, there was no Waitrose supermarket in Dulwich village itself’) it is on the whole not a particularly exciting read. There is some hope for a relationship between the main character and the police inspector, which might be the best thing in it. Sorry, not feeling inspired by this one. Just me, I suspect.

A policeman heads the cast of this mystery surrounding a Royal visit and set in a thoroughly-researched Edwardian Aberdeen.

I haven’t read a mediaeval mystery for a while and approached this one almost tentatively. The start was convoluted and confusing – I might just not have been in the mood for it – but when it settles down and heads for the countryside I settled down too and enjoyed it. The plot is good and the relationship between the two main characters is subtly done with lots of promise. A warning, though: an animal dies! People do, too, but of course that’s nowhere near as traumatic for crime readers.
Perfect Crime,Helen Fields: One of the very few series in which I’ll actually preorder the next episode. In this one I was fairly sure I had guessed who the murderer was quite near the beginning, but it’s definitely worth going along for the ride – particularly as the relationship between Luc and Ava is extremely well written. Very, very enjoyable.

Quest for a Father (Adventurous Quests Book 6) by [Peartree, Cecilia]
Quest for a Father (Adventurous Quests Book 6)

Quest for a Father,Cecilia Peartree: More serious than the previous Quest books as Andrew tries to find answers as to why his father, thought dead in Spain, is alive and has another family. Spain is of course Franco’s Spain and a frightening place even as it begins to accept tourists once again. I found the background interesting – I had read C.J. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid and found it (unfortunately since I love his other books) relentlessly depressing, but this seemed to catch a little more warmth and excitement. Enjoyable.

Silent Scream: An edge of your seat serial killer thriller (Detective Kim Stone Crime Thriller series) 
Silent Scream,Angela Marsons: Hm. Well, I certainly didn’t like the main character to start with (and who is so physically confident that they run up carpeted stairs two at a time in plastic shoe covers? Shades of Kay Scarpetta here!). Of course, we find out why she’s the way she is, though it doesn’t make her much more likeable, but her colleagues are comparatively easy to be around (particularly the bloke who rescues the dog – though he must be extremely strong to have done so, I should have thought!). The denouement I found baffling, at least in part, and therefore not quite as satisfying as it might have been. Anyway, I might not be a complete convert to Marsons’ series, but it’s possible I’ll read some more at some point. The plot was well-constructed, and on the whole I enjoyed it. But oh, look! It's that woman in the red coat again!

Right, well ... The proof copy of A Deficit of Bones has just arrived for checking, so the paperback should be available soon. A Wolf at the Gate is with beta-readers just now - release date of both paperback and ebook is scheduled for 3rd. July when I'll be signing copies (if I have them) in the Orcadian Bookshop, Kirkwall - the ebook should be available for pre-order at the beginning of June, all being well!

Thanks for reading and for your reviews - they make grey days happy!