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

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!


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.


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!

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