Some variety this month and some tremendously enjoyable books, including something spooky, something Biblical, something teenage and something romantic. Read on!
Reyna Favis, Soul Search: We hit the ground running here with someone trying to escape the ghost of a small boy, a spirit determined to do damage. The story revolves around Fia, who sees dead people and is with something like Mountain Rescue, working in the woods. There’s a good deal of technical detail about these rescues which is interesting in itself, but the main theme is how Fia, tutored by Cam, comes to terms with the spirit world and her responsibilities towards the people she sees. It feels a bit episodic at first but the plot is neatly drawn together into one investigation, and with its resolution we’re set up for the series. I normally read in 10% chunks but I’m ready to be carried away by any one book – this was indeed a book that carried me away.
Carmen Radtke, Let SleepingMurder Lie: I think this is a stand-alone from the author of the Alyssa Chalmers and the Jack and Frances series, both of which are terrific. It’s a romantic murder mystery, more trad than cosy, set in an English village with a strong heroine in Eve, half-American half-English wanderer, who decides to solve a five-year-old murder mystery. It’s a well-paced, entertaining read with amusing but not stereotyped side characters and a satisfying ending. I just felt like taking Eve aside, though, and explaining curry to her. You can’t generalise: there is a curry for everyone, even Eve.
Hazel Prior, Ellie and theHarpmaker: Well, we’re straight in here as Ellie meets the harpmaker in the first couple of pages. The harpmaker, is awkward, literal, and apparently a loner. Ellie is ambiguous, but he gives her a harp. Immediately, as she tries to explain this odd act to her husband, we want to read on. I loved the rich descriptions of nature on Exmoor, even as I agonised over Ellie’s marriage and Dan’s relationships.
M.W. Craven, Short Cut: A small book of short stories featuring Tilly Bradshaw and Washington Poe in lockdown – very amusing.
William Savage, The ReluctantHeir: it’s a while since I read one of these Adam Bascom books and I find he is now a baronet, but no less keen to investigate mysterious deaths. I enjoy reading about Adam and his wife and other associates (particularly his mother), but this seemed to need another read-through as there were several places where tenses seemed not to follow on properly, and other continuity issues. But I liked the sensitivity to social differences and responsibilities, the niceties of behaviour and relationships.
Zara Altair, The Roman Heir: I seem to be reading lots of books with Heir in the title these days. This one starts with some awkward language, sentences that stumble and stagger a bit. It is a novella and it could do with a better edit, though the sense of period and place is good (the later Roman period and Ostia rather than Rome, so a little unusual for a Roman book) despite Americanisms like calling the Mediterranean the ‘ocean’.
Paula Gooder, Phoebe: Gooder’s academic works on Christianity, particularly on the New Testament, are noted for their friendly, approachable tone and this comes into its own here in a novelised version of the visit of Phoebe, a wealthy deacon mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans, to Rome. Gooder invents her story but places it in her own scholarly studies of the Roman world at the time and peoples it with likeable, interesting, essentially human characters. Perhaps not a natural novelist, Gooder nevertheless tells a good story with charm. The last 30% of the book – in which, in fact, Gooder is quite happy to admit that she is not a novelist – gives a quantity of fascinating background information and scholarly sources on which she based her story.
Paula Gooder, Everyday God: With reference to ‘ordinary time’, those sections of the church year when we are neither celebrating nor working towards celebration, this is a book in praise of the ordinary and of the God who is with us as much, or even more, in the everyday as He is in tragedy or in grand worship. Gooder encourages us to learn to see God in the normal patterns of life, or in asides to that life, and having seen Him to hear what He is asking us to do. In the same way, she tells us that God is also happy with ordinary people – He does not need us to be extraordinary as He can do that for us, for His purpose. This is a very heartening book, written in an easy style, taking examples from the Bible and chatting over them in a familiar and friendly way.
Matt Dickinson, Lie, Kill,Walk Away: This is a teen novel (is that YA?) with alternating narratives by Becca and Joe, and inspired by the death of government scientist David Kelly some years ago. Joe is a graffiti artist with a youth offending record, while Becca already has an offer from Cambridge based on her A levels aged fifteen. When Becca’s father, a government scientist, is found in an apparent suicide attempt, Becca’s life becomes more complicated. The style is immediate and urgent and the two main characters are very likeable straightaway: both have suffered tragedies in their young lives and are coping as best they can. And they’re bright – bright enough to do that sensible thing that so many characters fail to do in books when they discover some momentous secret: they keep it to themselves and don’t rush up and tell the bad guys what they’ve discovered. Hooray! Some good questions asked here, what killing and radicalisation really does to you, and under what circumstances might radicalisation be more likely to work. And a very exciting story.
Lesley Krier, The First TimeEver: I thought I had read the first in this series (Baby’s Got Blue Eyes) and had been intending for some time to go back and read more – and when I finally did, in this box set, I found I’d missed the first two, including this one. It’s a great start, with a firearms officer shooting a man dead for the first time (entirely in the course of his duties), then building his character – and what a great character Ted Darling is. My main problem with these books is that the titles set off earworms all the time!
Lesley Krier, Two Little Boys: A stressful subject at the centre of this story, organised child abuse, which is particularly difficult for the hero Ted Darling. It’s interesting and touching to see the effect the case has on the police team as individuals, and we really run with the police here in their ups and downs trying to solve the mystery. Mind you, it feels very realistic – though I particularly liked the scene where Ted drives with a ranting suspect in the back while his senior officer repairs his jacket.
Lesley Krier, When I’m Old and Grey: This one begins with a surprise visit from someone in Ted’s past and a possible mystery to solve. I do like the way the team develops through this series, particularly Steve and Maurice. This may have been my favourite so far – I liked the plant toxins and the pace of the investigation, and as for the fiery Jez, she was the perfect candidate for the Ted-as-manager treatment!
And in terms of writing - well, I'm about a fifth of the way through the fourth Orkneyinga Murder, cover to be revealed at the Orkney Viking Festival in September (I'll be Zooming, not in person, sadly, but I'm hoping to do a reading from the new book, if I've written enough!).