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

Wednesday 15 November 2023

September and October reading - late again! and a new book out!

 September, always my busiest month for all kinds of reasons, has this year expanded even further and cast its influence into November! I think I'm maybe catching up now ...

The Business at Blandyce is at last out for preorder, paperback to follow shortly.

Dr Robert Wilson is writing a cultural guide to Europe, and perhaps beyond. Gil Archibald needs to get to Paris. As Dr Wilson’s secretary, he thinks he can reach his goal, but Dr Wilson is not a straightforward employer, and neither of them can make much progress when a body is found in the mud and rain of the Pas de Calais. When neither of them is telling the other the whole truth, how will they ever work together to solve the mystery?

But anyway, to books by other people! It's been quite a selection over the last two months - you'll be sure to find something to enjoy.

Hania Allen, The Polish Detective: Though we don’t know too much about our main character to start with – why she’s in Dundee, for example – she’s sympathetic enough and the case is interesting, a dead lecturer hidden in a scarecrow. The plot evolves to include the Dundee Druidic community – no idea if they exist or not but this is a good portrayal of Dundee and the surrounding countryside, with the additional interesting layer of Polish culture.

Andrea Carter, Death at Whitewater Church: Winter in Donegal, atmospherically portrayed in this, the first in the series with lawyer Ben O’Keefe as the main investigator. When she and the estate agent find a skeleton arranged in a disused chapel that’s up for sale, it triggers an investigation that draws her further into a local community where she has, till now, been an outsider, risking her own secrets on the way. This has a proper small community feel, with layers of dark memories underlying current problems, and a good conclusion that works well.

Carmen Radtke, Genie and the Ghost: This is a lovely start to a new cosy mystery series, where Genie, a young jewellery designer, chums up with her long-dead flapper aunt to solve mysteries. The physical difficulties of living with a ghost, particularly one who can communicate with animals, are wonderfully imagined and touchingly amusing. Looking forward to the next one!

Blue Raven, Adam: I thought this a little overpriced for a novella but was interested by the concept: a criminal discovers time travel and goes back to the past to manipulate politics to cause a nuclear war and start an alternative timeline. The story is told from the future in the alternative timeline, where an AI being called Adam reveals what really happened to cause it. This is perhaps more of a political thriller than a sci-fi book, with shades of conspiracy theories. Sometimes it jumps a little and you wonder if the author is trying to jam too much plot into a short form. I’ll make no comment on anything here about the actual American politics referred to – not my cup of tea. In the last third of the book, the science fiction comes back in and I liked the ending, even if I wasn’t in complete agreement with the character who made it there! Interesting book, but perhaps a novel would have been a better format and less rushed.

J.D. Kirk, A Dead Man Walking: If I had any gripes with this they would be 1/ how could he be so unkind to Logan as to send him to an island with Tammi-Jo and Tyler and 2/ it would never occur to me to wipe my eyes on the sleeve of my Barbour jacket. But perhaps he means the quilted ones, not the proper waxed jobs. As usual, there’s humour and some deep emotion here, and despite the slightly Hallowe’en theme we have a good plot and character development.

Robert Galbraith, The Ink Black Heart: Others have complained about the online conversations in parts of this book. I found them interesting, and laid out very well – except that for some reason the e-book then laid them out again in a different pattern. This was an enjoyable though not always comfortable read with plenty of interesting characters, a few nicely resolved problems, and some horrible reflections on the use of social media today.

Cecilia Peartree, Two Steps to Murder: Hooray! Another Pitkirtly mystery! A teenager is killed and Amaryllis is arrested in the midst of a folk and pop festival which sits over Pitkirtly like a granny-square blanket on a comfy armchair.

Anna Faversham, Hide in Time: Intriguing start here with a dating agent finding she has more and more in common with one of her clients – and we grow to wonder if perhaps one final thing they have in common is that they were both born in a different time. Eventually the plot unfolds into a kind of time-swap romantic adventure, cleverly imagined and ultimately satisfying, with touches of humour that are very sweet.

Groovy Lee, Colors in the Dark: The first action scene snatches you in fast to this charming romantic thriller set mostly in California, with an excursion to Mississippi. Hailey, the narrator, is sweet and sensible and a loving friend, and you just want everything to go right for her! This causes the reader some considerable stress when Hailey heads off on her own to pick up a vulnerable child from a hostile family – my heart was in my mouth for several chapters. No spoilers, though. Just go along for the ride!

Carmen Radtke, Murder at the Races: It’s lovely to be back in 1930s Melbourne – I’ve left this series too long! I’ve enjoyed contrasting this, too, with the author’s new Genie series, which is much more cosy. This is also very Australian, whilst Genie feels like small town America: very clever writing! You can really feel the struggles in a society trying to keep things together in a slump. Frances is trying to clear the name of her vet brother, Rob, caught up in a horse-ringing scandal and murder. Satisfying plot, and great set-up for the sequel.

J.M. Dalgliesh, A Long Time Dead: Our police main character is sent back to his native Skye to investigate when the body of a girl missing since his childhood is discovered in a bog. Though the resolution was maybe a little overdone (I mean I felt I’d read it a few times before), the characterisation was good, as was the sense of place, and I’d happily read another one.

T. Kingfisher, Thornhedge: A charming ugly fairy creature is guarding the thorn hedge around Sleeping Beauty’s ruined tower. She’s been doing it for centuries, when at last a knight comes along to give it a closer look. This is a brilliant twisting of the fairy tale, amusing and touching and ultimately very satisfactory.

Ann Cleeves, The Long Call: Ann Cleeves is a terrific example to us all of how much writing can improve even for published authors. It was coincidence that I started reading both this and A Lesson in Dying around the same time, and The Long Call was instantly more interesting, appealing, and intriguing. I loved the main character, everything seemed to work to further the plot, and the general sense of the author’s ease with writing was clear.

Ann Cleeves, A Lesson in Dying: I really struggled with the first few chapters here. I could see that the different stories were going to link up, but they seemed overly disjointed and unsympathetic – it might just have been the mood I was in, but I was almost relieved when we had a dead body and something definite to focus on. But as we reached the discovery of a second murder, there is a very detailed, intimate portrait of how murder can affect those around it, those not even that closely connected with it, that is beautifully done.

David Gatward, Blood Trail: Another excellent episode in the series, with Grimm really starting to settle down in Yorkshire and a fine mystery with its feet in the past and some very emotional moments.

Rhys Dylan, Gravely Concerned: Some weirdly inconsistent apostrophe use here, but we’re back with the team after Evan’s break for a funeral. There’s a well-paced urgency to the hunt for an abducted boy and a couple of  nice twists. On to the next one soon!

Gareth Williams, Needing Napoleon: A very interesting start, with a man arriving at Waterloo the afternoon before the battle – but from the year 2018. Desperate to get away from his life and help his hero Napoleon, he takes the extreme step of accepting a one-way trip to Waterloo. I found it amusing that the present day is written in the past tense, and the past is written in the present tense – a clever way to show the period that matters more to the main character. Let’s put aside my favouritism here: I’m a big fan of the sensible Wellington, and not at all of the selfish Bonaparte, and Richard is a serious Bonapartist. But the quality of the writing makes him very sympathetic, and renders the time-travel element quite realistic, in an unexpected way.

Valerie Keogh, No Memory Lost: The discovery of a child’s body disrupts West’s self-recrimination over the death of a neighbour, a guilt-trip that I didn’t really find very convincing. But the rest of the case is more interesting. Less convincing is the attack on Edel by an old acquaintance. The book rounds itself up well and I found the ending satisfying.

So there we are! And aside from all of that, I have started (just about) the fifth Orkneyinga Murders book - limited progress so far because of all that September stuff, but perhaps now I can give it a bit more attention!

Wednesday 6 September 2023

Books for August

It's been a busy month again and now we're into Crazy September, my annual galloping panic. But here are last month's reads - some really good ones here! Amazon are not helping, though: I used to arrange my Kindle into collections like 'Currently reading' and 'For review', but now this apparently doesn't work any more, so if I miss something for review I must apologise.

The Gilded Shroud (Lady Fan Mystery Book 1) by [Elizabeth Bailey]

Elizabeth Bailey, The Gilded Shroud: The first in the Lady Fan series of Georgian crime novels. I had not read these before as for some reason I had thought they were set in Japan! Not that I have anything against books set in Japan (I’ve read a few) but they hadn’t particularly drawn my attention till I ‘met’ the author in a Facebook group. So here I am, belatedly. And while I’m on timing, I’m really glad I didn’t read these when I was starting out, or I might have lost heart altogether. This was a very well-written, well-drawn book. If I had any criticism to make it was that the description of the various entrances to the house where the murder took place lost me completely, but I loved Ottilia and the Dowager, and the cleverly-depicted period.

No Past Forgiven: A Gripping Crime Mystery (The Dublin Murder Mysteries) by [Valerie Keogh]

Valerie Keogh, No Past Forgiven: This starts with lots of little cases and some hope for Mike and Edel. It feels bitty until they head off to Clare Island and get involved in a local case. There has to be some suspension of disbelief at the way Edel is constantly allowed to attend crime scenes and interviews, but once past that it’s a good, interesting plot, with an ending that spins us on to the next book.

Psychic Surveys Book Two: Rise to Me: A Gripping Supernatural Thriller by [Shani Struthers]

Shani Struthers, Rise to Me: I had forgotten how much I had enjoyed the first one in this series, set in East Sussex where I lived for a while, and I was a bit cross with myself for leaving it so long before going back for the second one. Nevertheless it was an easy catch-up, and a good, exciting plot all rounded off nicely at the end.

THE BEACH HUT MURDERS an absolutely gripping cozy mystery filled with twists and turns (The Charity Shop Detective Agency Mysteries Book 2) by [PETER BOLAND]

Peter Boland, The Beach HutMurders: Despite my mild misgivings about the first in the series (or rather, the author’s comments about it), I thoroughly enjoyed the second outing for the charity shop detectives. Each plays nicely to their own strengths and they pick up some useful friends along the way in this atmospheric cosy. I thought I had guessed the means of murder, but I was still not quite right, and certainly didn’t spot the killer!

Suffer The Dead: A Black Beacons Murder Mystery (DCI Evan Warlow Crime Thriller Book 4) by [Rhys Dylan]

Rhys Dylan, Suffer the Dead: If nothing else, I’m seriously impressed by the MC’s ability to converse on his mobile while opening one of those little tubs of UHT milk in hotel bedrooms. One handed? Wow! But it’s another entertaining, scary and tragic episode in the lives of the team, transported to North Wales for this particular book. The portrayal of rural life and the threat of rural crime was well done.

In Service of Death (DCI Logan Crime Thrillers Book 17) by [JD Kirk]

J.D. Kirk: In Service of Death: As always, we have pathos, bathos, humour and violence in an adroit mix here, and Hoon, too. Hang on to your hats – it’s the usual terrific ride. Only misgiving is the use of the Commando memorial on the cover - it didn't feel quite right to me.

The Devil and Daniel Singer by [Catriona  Keith]

Catriona Keith, The Devil and Daniel Singer: I don’t like books written in the present tense, though at least this is first person narrative which makes it slightly more credible. The presentation, too, is not wholly conventional, and there are many things about it I did not like or found awkward. I was wary about a particular sect being picked out in the book description and thought the author might be getting herself into trouble, and apart from the setting there was little in the description that appealed to me about the book. So there – this book was not setting out to attract me. Yet I was caught at once by the quality of some of the writing and the two main characters, who are distinct and in one case well-drawn. This still needs editing, but it is an unexpectedly interesting read. Expensive for a first e-book from an unknown author, though: £5.99.

Old Evils: An absolutely unputdownable British detective series (Detective Annie Delamere Book 4) by [Alex Walters]

Alex Walters, Old Evils: The fourth Annie Delamere book. This is an author whose books I’ll buy as soon as I see there’s a new one, and I had the good fortune to attend a workshop he ran at Cromarty last year. Here’s a plot that unfolds leaf by leaf, all the leaves neatly joined, with strong, interesting characters and enough over-arching plot to sustain interest book by book. Looking forward to the next one.

Dead Winter Bones (Golden Murder Mysteries Book 2) by [Anna Penrose]

Anna Penrose, Dead Winter Bones: I’ve been looking forward to this and it did not disappoint. Mal is a terrific main character, and what a good plot! Apparently the third is on its way, which is great news.

Also this month I'm going to make mention of a new online magazine, Writers' Narrative, a packed production full of interest for writers in any genre. Regular features such as best libraries, writing groups, independent bookshops and so on are mixed in with interviews and articles - the second edition focussed particularly on marketing, always a tough subject with authors! At present it's a free publication - maybe time to sign up! writersnarrative@gmail.com.

And what am I doing? Apart from trying to stay on the horse's back as I gallop through September, I'm still writing the first in the Robert Wilson series, now called The Business in Blandyce - there's a cover and everything! And I'm over 3/5 through the first draft. Coming up is a visit to Orkney with a talk at the Orkney Viking Festival, and with a view to writing (yes, I know, it's been a while) No. 5 in the Orkneyinga Vikings series!!! Don't hold your breath - there's only the ghost of a plot so far, but the hope and intention are there. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday 1 August 2023

Reading for June and July

 Two months' worth again - I lost track of the dates and decided just to plough on!

Death from a Shetland Cliff (The Shetland Sailing Mysteries Book 8) by [Marsali Taylor]

Marsali Taylor, Death from a Shetland Cliff: I love this series, so it was great to be back with Cass who pretends, for various reasons, to be a maid to an elderly woman. When the relatives gather around the woman and one of them dies, it’s hard to know if someone’s after the inheritance or hiding a family secret. A good traditional puzzle here, and a satisfying conclusion.

No Obvious Cause: A Gripping Crime Mystery (The Dublin Murder Mysteries) by [Valerie Keogh]

Valerie Keogh, No Obvious Cause: It’s been a while since I read the first in this series, though I enjoyed it. It was good to reacquaint myself with Garda Sergeant West, a pleasant man, and his sidekick Pete Andrews. This was an interesting little plot involving Guyanese vegetables. I’ve bought the set of six, and am looking forward to the rest.

The Medici Murders (A Venetian Mystery Book 1) by [David Hewson]

David Hewson, The Medici Murders: I was recommended this for its portrayal of an archivist – hm, a rather odd, pretentious archivist, more interested in archival theory than the practicalities of the job. However, the setting is attractive – Venice, with a plot involving papers relating to a murder amongst the Medici. The portrayal of a popular television ‘historian’ is quite amusing, if rather bitter (which fits the characters). All the characters are two-dimensional, though. The idea that the Italian for ‘history’ is the same as the Italian for ‘story’ holds true for several languages and is not unique to Venice. I was not convinced that the police, in a hurry to solve a murder, would call in this pedantic (ironic, since I’m being pedantic enough myself) little man to help out. His knowledge of Venice, after only three months there, seems ambitious, and he is a very specific kind of archivist, I should say. Still, it was an interesting read – not sure I’ll be rushing to read another one.

No Time Like The Past (Chronicles of St. Mary's Book 5) by [Jodi Taylor]

Jodi Taylor, No Time Like the Past: In the usual slightly episodic style this rackets along, drawing all the episodes together in an exciting climax, with some very important progress in the whole overarching plot of the series. Best read in order – or just best read.

The Magus of Hay (Merrily Watkins Series) by [Phil Rickman]

Phil Rickman, The Magus of Hay: it’s a while since I read one of these, and though I really enjoy them I remember the last one dragging a bit – perhaps because I wasn’t so much in the mood at the time. This one I took to almost straightaway, with its Hay-on-Wye book town setting. Very interesting background and a good plot, so I’m back on track!

The Filey Connection (#1 - Sanford Third Age Club Mystery) (STAC - Sanford Third Age Club Mystery) by [David W Robinson]

David W. Robinson, The Filey Connection: The lead character in this, Joe, is a bad-tempered cafĂ© owner with a track record of solving minor local crimes. When an acquaintance, known as ‘Knickers Off’, is killed in apparent hit-and-run, he is quick to step in and interpret it as murder, even though he’s busy organising the local Third Age weekend by the sea. I didn’t much like Joe – he’s unnecessarily rude – but his sidekicks are good. Lots of twists and turns, and one or two difficult to follow steps, but on the whole a satisfying read.

Murder at The Mill : Introducing Amy Rowlings: A gorgeous cosy 1930's crime series (Amy Rowlings Mysteries Book 1) by [T.A. Belshaw]

T.A. Belshaw, Murder at the Mill: Set in early 1939 in a snowy town in Kent, the plot revolves around the murder, at a clothing factory, of Wandering Handsley, the slimy son of the owner. Amy, one of the machinists, soon hooks up with Bodkin, the police detective, to investigate. This is a rather chirpy, cheery book, with some nice period detail but a few errors, calling Bodkin ‘Detective’, for example, anachronistic speech and lots of wandering punctuation. You have to suspend disbelief a bit to allow young Amy quite such free rein in the investigation, and there are more divorced couples than I would have expected in the 1930s working class, but it’s entertaining stuff.

A Song of Winter by [Andrew James Greig]

Andrew James Greig, A Song of Winter: Quite a scary setting in a climate crisis way – Finlay and Jess with their children and dog have to go into hiding as Finlay is involved in discovering a major climate event about to hit Scotland. Government conspiracies to conceal the crisis to avoid greater catastrophe provides another plot line. I’d expected better of the grammar, for some reason – I’m sure the editing in general was better in the previous book I’d read by him – but the plot is certainly gripping.

A Tangled Web: Mata Hari: Dancer, Courtesan, Spy by [Mary W. Craig]

Mary W. Clark, A TangledWeb: This is a biography of Mata Hari, Dutchwoman and self-styled exotic dancer and courtesan, who in 1917 was accused of spying for Germany, condemned and shot by the French. It’s immensely detailed and interesting, with a lengthy epilogue debating the possible truths of the case. Mata Hari does not come across as very intelligent and certainly ends as a pathetic figure, and the selection of photographs included emphasises that.

No More Lies: 2023’s most chilling suspense novel yet from the queen of psychological thrillers by [Rachel Abbott]

Rachel Abbot, No More Lies: The lovely Tom is back, solving a case that has its origins in a group of friends and their last night together before heading off to university and other points. This one I did solve, but that doesn't detract from the quality of this series - excellent suspense.

Blood Sport: A Yorkshire Murder Mystery (DCI Harry Grimm Crime Thrillers Book 7) by [David J. Gatward]

David Gatward, Blood Sport: did I review this before? This had me on tenterhooks because of the potential animal cruelty involved, but it's a good strong plot that I almost solved but not quite! These really need to be read in order for best impact.

Cold Sanctuary: A Yorkshire Murder Mystery (DCI Harry Grimm Crime Thrillers Book 8) by [David J.  Gatward]

David Gatward, Cold Sanctuary: A grim start to this, not necessarily because of the manner of the death but because of the relationship between parents and grown-up son. I was relieved when the usual team appeared, and while there were some real upsets along the way it was another terrific read.

One Bad Turn: A Yorkshire Murder Mystery (DCI Harry Grimm Crime Thrillers Book 9) by [David J.  Gatward]

And another Gatward, One BadTurn: This one gets extra points for referring to Local Hero, one of my favourite films, as well as a good portrayal of PTSD for one of the team. 

And where am I? Well, I'm nearly a quarter of the way through the first book in the new series  - no proper title yet, and going slowly as there's lots of research to be done along the way.

Friday 30 June 2023

A Day for Death and newsletter

 A Day for Death, Hippolyta VII, is out today!

So, too, is the Ballater Bugle, so if you were expecting a copy and it hasn't arrived, let us know. It's coming from a gmail address as there are still some issues with the normal address, but incoming emails seem to be fine!

Wednesday 21 June 2023

May's reading

 Late again! It's almost traditional. But here's what I read in May:

A Traitor At Tower Bridge (The Lady Eleanor Mysteries Book 3) by [Lynda Wilcox]

Lynda Wilcox: A Traitor at Tower Bridge: A painter (of Tower Bridge, not a landscape artist) turns up dead, and Lady Eleanor is obliged to go south of the river to investigate amongst a class of whom she knows little. A very good yarn, with interesting characters and a strong sense of the period.

Rights and Wrongs (Max Falconer Mysteries Book 4) by [Cecilia Peartree]

Cecilia Peartree, Rights and Wrongs: The next Max Falconer book, dealing with animal rights and Max's obscure museum. As usual the secondary characters are fascinating and amusing, just as much as the main ones, making for an entertaining read and a growing feeling of coming home to a new book.

Blood-Tied (Esme Quentin Mystery Book 1) by [Wendy Percival]

Wendy Percival, Blood-Tied: This is the first in the Esme Quentin series, a genealogical mystery series. I had previously, some time ago, read a short story in the series and had always meant to come back to it: Esme is a gentle but determined character with a mysterious past and a scarred face, and the mystery here involves her own family, a sister that turns out not quite to be a sister and a connexion with the local landed gentry that is not all it seems.

The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities by [Violet Moller]

Violet Moller, The Map of Knowledge: This readable account of the transmission of classical learning, mathematics, medicine and astronomy, in the ancient world is scholarly and informative. It conjures up vivid pictures of, in turn, Alexandria, Baghdad, Cordoba, Toledo, Salerno, Palermo, and Venice, their origins and how they came to play a part in the history of knowledge. There is a touch of the formula about each chapter: she begins with a specific incident, a human touch, in each place, that demonstrates the status of the city, then goes on to explain its history, its rise to greatness, its relationship with previous cities, and what happened afterwards, but the accounts of both places and people are fascinating. I perhaps don’t altogether sympathise with her enthusiasm over Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, however. About a third of the book is actually bibliography and footnotes, so don’t go expecting extra cities after 1500!

Death on Cromer Beach: The start of a BRAND NEW crime series from bestseller Ross Greenwood for 2023 (DS Knight Book 1) by [Ross Greenwood]

Ross Greenwood, Death on Cromer Beach: A shocking start and an unusual leading detective, Ashley, who may have the almost standard troubled background but is somehow very real. There’s a good deal of talking but the pace is good and the plot interesting, the results, it appears, of a beach tragedy years before where a teenager died. A very satisfactory start to a new series.

The Turning of our Bones: A hard-hitting Scottish crime thriller (DI Rob Marshall Scottish Borders Police Mysteries Book 1) by [Ed James]

Ed James, The Turning of our Bones: The start of a new series here, as a London police detective returns home to the Scottish Borders to pursue a serial killer. This did not have the instant appeal of the Scott Cullen series for me, but I preferred it to the one book I’ve read of James’ London series: like the Barnett book below, it took a while to grow on me, and in the end I might well read another.

Death Warning: Who killed the killer? (CSI Eddie Collins Book 7) by [Andrew Barrett]

Andrew Barnett, Death Warning: A while since I read one of these, and it took me a good bit to get into it again. Eddie is a fully-paid-up member of the awkward squad, and there seemed to be a plethora of unlikeable characters throughout the book. Slowly it worked its charm on me and as always I did enjoy it.

Restless Dead: A Yorkshire Murder Mystery (DCI Harry Grimm Crime Thrillers Book 5) by [David J.  Gatward]

David Gatward, Restless Dead: A terrible car accident and some sheep rustling closer to home involve the team in an investigation where it seems even the supernatural might be to blame. An intriguing plot, which edges over into the next book. This really is a very enjoyable series. I carried on to Death's Requiem and am now in the middle of the next one - the team here is very appealing, even when the crime is nasty.

Caution Death At Work: A Black Beacons Murder Mystery (DCI Evan Warlow Crime Thriller Book 2) by [Rhys Dylan]

Rhys Dylan, Ice Cold Malice and Caution Death at Work: Another series that is picking me up and carrying me off, this time set in Wales, but as with David Gatward the team is the draw here, a cast of characters with whom one wants to spend time. Well plotted, too!

The Last Remains: The unmissable new book in the Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries by [Elly Griffiths]

Elly Griffiths, The Last Remains: Maybe I'm alone in not feeling I needed a resolution to the Ruth/Nelson relationship (I've never been that keen on Nelson, though I like Ruth tremendously). But this was as satisfying as the other books in the series and the author has hinted that there might eventually be a return! In the meantime, she has the Harbinder Kaur series to enjoy (and the 1950s one, too, though it's less my thing). 

Death in the Dark: A Golden Age Mystery by [Moray Dalton]

Moray Dalton, Death in the Dark: This was a surprisingly charming little mystery starring a circus performer who, for the purposes of investigation, goes to stay in a private zoo. It's a bit oddly paced, and the guilty party is fairly obvious, but I liked the feel of the book and enjoyed it.

And what else? Hippolyta VII, A Day for Death, is available for preorder now (printed version almost ready), and I'm in the midst of research for another book, set in (probably) 1816 ...