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

Wednesday 2 October 2019

September's reading

September, as you'll know if you've listening to me whinging about it, is a ridiculously busy month, and in my distraction I've managed to read two non-fiction books rather than one non-fiction and one non-crime fiction. So here are the two non-fictions (and I'll do it the other way round in October!)

Mary Welfare, Growing up at Haddo: I’m not usually a big reader of autobiography, but this is one I’ve been intending to read for a while. Mary Welfare is the eldest adopted daughter of the 4th Marquess of Aberdeen and his wife, June, and grew up at Haddo House in Aberdeenshire in the years after the Second World War, a time when the estate was not particularly well off and her parents were setting up an extraordinary opera and choral institution. This meant that her childhood, though somewhat impecunious, was spent in a grand, if shabby, country house populated for chunks of the year by the most prominent musicians, singers and composers of the time, from Benjamin Britten to Annie Lennox, members of the Royal Family and random chorus singers from nearby Aberdeen. This is not a name-dropping autobiography, though: it’s gently anecdotal and tells of a time when the country house lifestyle was gradually fading into National Trust land. I found it an amusing read and rather wistful, in the end.
The second is also autobiographical, and written in the present tense, one of my bugbears.

The Outrun: A Memoir
The Outrun, Amy Liptrott: Lovely writing but not the most cheerful of subjects, a woman returning, reluctantly, to her childhood home after her life has fallen apart and seeing it with new eyes. I felt that some of the metaphors were posted up like the illuminated signs over a motorway - having to break down more of a collapsed drystone dyke before you can rebuild it, for example, as she slowly pulls herself together after rehab – and the story, someone hitting the big lights in their early twenties, then hitting the bottle, then hitting rock bottom, is not exactly unique. But as I said, lovely writing: scene-setting, whether in London or in Orkney; situations; the weather; all described with a lighter touch than her metaphors, and really evocative. It’s a reluctant love letter to Orkney, a recognition of the power, good and bad, of social media, and a telling account of addiction and the road to recovery (however tentative that might always be).
And the crime fiction:

No Time to Cry (DC Constance Fairchild, #1)
No Time to Cry, James Oswald: I can’t put my finger on it, but when I started this book I really did not like it. And I speak as a dyed in the wool Tony McLean fan – love them so much I actually spoke to James Oswald at Granite Noir 2018, which for me is quite something. It wasn’t a conversation that went well, but then that’s my problem, not his. I left it for a bit, and went back, and somehow it started to work better for me. I really don’t know why. It’s written in the present tense, which I usually hate, but at least it’s present tense first person which works better. I grew to like the spiky main character with her peculiar background – and of course her cat and her boss’s ghost – if that’s what it is. And the plot is terrific. Roll on the rest of the series.

Where Seagulls Dare
WhereSeagulls Dare, Mark Farrer: Not as laugh-a-minute as I expected, but quite a clever story woven around the well-researched background of the salmon-farming industry. I liked Kim and Cullen, two strong characters bent on justice. Not for the faint-hearted, though. It all fell apart a bit towards the end – Kirkwall geography and a serious overestimate of the speed of Sea King helicopters, even if they were still in service, knocked me out of the plot rather, and there are plenty of typos, but on the whole a good yarn well told.

One is One

  Andrew James Greig, One is One: My first thought was that Orkney Tourist Board weren’t likely to be snapping this one up! It starts with industrial estates and rain and grey and kitsch ornaments and weird people, and terrible driving. It also needs to sort out how to use speech marks, and work out whose perspective the narrative is portraying. Tania, the first main character, is not very appealing at all, prickly and prejudiced. However, the plot warms up nicely: the police investigation in London and on Rum is intriguing and the appearance of Thomas the Rhymer equally mysterious, and the adventures in Iceland (there is no geographical limitation on this plot!) are amusing, too. The whole thing is wrapped in myth and folklore and pretty intriguing – I might well follow up the sequel.
Susan Spann, Claws of the Cat: A charming book, set in 16th century Japan (Kyoto). The investigating pair are a Shogun warrior and the man he has to protect, a Portuguese Jesuit priest – thus many obscure Japanese matters can be explained to the priest by his bodyguard. I think this is the first in a longish series. It was an easy read, well-paced and very enjoyable, and I felt I learned something from it, which is always a plus for me. I probably wouldn't have spotted it but it was the monthly historical crime fiction book club on GoodReads.

A Poisoning In Piccadilly (The Lady Eleanor Mysteries Book 1)
Lynda Wilcox, A Poisoning in Piccadilly: An elegant book, set in a familiar period but rather nicely done. I liked the heroine and her sidekick maid who has a mind of her own, too, and the background in the First World War is, if not unusual, intriguing.

Well, there we are, a shortish list! Meanwhile I'm working on the next Hippolyta, An Incident at Lochgorm, and the stand alone, The Slaughter of Leith Hall, is planned for the new year (oh, dear, these plans!). Now, off to netball ...