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

Monday 8 July 2019

June's reading

A bit late again this month, what with trips to Orkney and book launches (and having to repaint the bathroom ceiling, but that's another story).

My non-crime fiction for this month is one that's been on my shelf for a little while - a signed copy, forsooth! It's Helen Lynch's Tea for the Rent Boy.

 A book of stunning short stories from the author of The Elephant and the Polish Question – you never know what you’re going to meet in the next one. Some of them are disturbing, distressing, and complex, and some just feel like a hug, but all are beautifully observed, a constant, steady, sympathetic probing into the innermost thoughts and memories of the characters. You feel you know them well.

Now for the non-fiction. I’ve always had an aversion to reading theology and philosophy, feeling that somehow my brain was not constructed for thoughts of that kind. However, I’ve decided to try to train myself out of such an aversion, and so I’m often on the hunt for the kind of accessible theological works that make me feel I’m making some kind of progress. That was how I came to read this one,

Alister McGrath, Mere Discipleship.
Based on sermons and talks he has given and edited here, this book is subtitled ‘On growing in wisdom and hope’. I found the first chapter very hard going, but on the whole useful in the thoughts it provoked. After that it was easier, and McGrath’s thinking is clear and in some cases confessional. He is a scientist and was, when young, a determined atheist, but he would have done well to pay attention to C.S. Lewis’ warning to be careful what you read, as it may affect you in ways you never expect. McGrath is much influenced by Lewis, as you could tell from the book’s title, but he brings in other authors as well to show how, for example, a Christian life is a road, not the balcony above it: we are travelling and not mere observers, but we have guides and companions on the path. Threads that weave through the talks are the rationality of Christian thought, where some might think that reason and faith are opposed, and Christian faith as a way of seeing things, whether as a lens or as a vantage point. Several of the chapters analyse the contribution of some twentieth-century theologians to the them: not surprisingly, one is C.S. Lewis, but another is Dorothy L. Sayers and he also examines J.I. Packer and John Stott, all of them with admiration. The book finishes with four short sermons that sum up themes and references from the rest of the book, in specific contexts. I’ll read more by this author, and also follow up on several of the authors he mentions – it’s the kind of book that gives you even more on your reading list.

Elly Griffiths, Dark Angel: I was initially surprisingly reluctant, as I’m not that keen when series wander off from the place they’re set (though I’m seriously guilty of doing it myself). And I don’t know what it is about Elly’s books. They start off slowly, and you think Oh, I can take or leave this one. And you put it down after a few pages, and then you find it’s already working away at the back of your mind, and so you decide to go back and read a chapter or two … and then the book’s finished. How does she do that?? Of course it was excellent, as ever.

M.W. Craven, The Puppet Show: I didn’t read this book for ages, despite the hype, because I thought from the cover it was not the kind of book I would like. Well, don’t judge a book by the cover, I believe someone once said. It’s much more character-driven than I expected, and interesting characters at that. The landscape, too, is a strong feature: you really feel you are in Cumbria. But the plot is strong too, and there really aren’t any weak points here. A very enjoyable read, and I believe the next one is already out!

The Peat Dead, Allan Martin: Real island life, not precious fantasy. Islay is the island in question here, and the plot is police procedural, after the discovery of bodies in a peat bog that turn out to be relatively recent. I like the detective, Angus Blue: he seems to have an interesting back story that isn’t just churned out at you, and the rest of the police are not cardboard, either. I’m not particularly keen on government conspiracy plots, but the characters held my attention. An entertaining yarn in the old tradition  - I’d like to read more. And I’m delighted to note after writing this review that he’s been shortlisted for best newcomer in the Bloody Scotland lists – well deserved!

No Accident, Robert Crouch: A light touch from the start, but it needed to be good to get past being written in the present tense! It’s scrambled, hurried, and casual in style, and the character of the narrator comes across strongly this way. However, I felt I could only read a bit at a time because it was so busy. Lots of characters at all angles, complex plot, and I’m not sure I didn’t finish it just because I wanted to write a review. But it did have its appeal, I think, and the ending was well done.

Susanna M. Newstead, One Misty Moisty Morning: I think I’ve come into this series late, but I was initially intrigued by title and cover. However, despite the presence of the bear I found this hard to warm to – hard to read, indeed, because of misplaced and missing commas, typos, and generally confusing writing. American influence? Phrases like ‘yea big’, and some odd accents? Not sure, and didn’t feel like checking. I managed a bit at a time. The action is quite slow and the characters don’t exactly leap off the page: I didn’t have much sense even of the narrator, except it was a man with some authority. It’s a shame, because I’d say it had been very carefully researched. The bear was nice, though.

Jim Kelly: The Great Darkness: Set in the confusion and shadows of the Second World War, this is a book that seems set to puzzle from the start. I liked the strange crepuscular lighting of it, the sort of sideways, meditative investigation: the policeman, insomniac after his experiences in the first war, is very calm, moving slowly partly because of his injured eyesight – the whole book seems set in difficult light-levels. It’s also set in the so-called Phoney War, an unusual time for a book but a good one, when war had neither started nor stopped. The background of Cambridge with its academics adds to the mix, but is not over-egged. A few mild anachronisms, but not enough to annoy – this is a good, original book, with some lovely use of language.
A Litter of Bones (DCI Logan Crime Thrillers, #1)
J.D. Kirk, A Litter of Bones: Disturbing start, child abduction in the Highlands. Well written, particularly the sniping and banter between the police officers. The parts where we hear from the abducted child were good though did not benefit from comparison with similar passages in a Susan Hill I read recently, though they very much had their purpose. If you don’t like harm to animals (and I have to say I don’t at all) then there are passages in this book that are definitely not for you. But the plot is good and the characters interesting.
  Okay, that's this month, and there are already some good reads lined up for next month! In the mean time, thanks for all the sales for A Wolf at the Gate - please review if you enjoy it!
I'm currently working on a stand-alone which is taking some research - not even a working title yet for that one. Then the next Hippolyta is scheduled optimistically for  Christmas / New Year, and after that who knows? There should be another Murray and another Orkneyinga in the near future, anyway!