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

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Indie author for February - Cecilia Peartree

Murder or What You Will (Pitkirtly Mysteries Book 15) by [Peartree, Cecilia]
I've featured Cecilia Peartree before on this blog, but she's so prolific it's about time to do it again! Her latest book, the fifteenth (not counting shorts) in the Pitkirtly series, Murder or What You Will, is just out and is another delight. Set in and around the fictional coastal village of Pitkirtly in Fife, notoriously riven with murders and miles from any ambulance provision, the books feature Christopher, a nervous archivist, and Amaryllis, a semi-retired spy, along with their various aging friends and neighbours and their dogs. Council politics, local trades, knitting and family history crop up often in the plots which are bulging with in - jokes and insecurities. The series is well worth reading from the beginning (and indeed I am rereading it) for a bit of feelgood, neighbourly murder and a pint or two of Old Pictish at the Queen of Scots.
Cecilia has another series and further books available: the Quest series is set in postwar times with a backdrop of art. Beginning with The Lion and the Unicorn Quest, it has Flora and Oliver Quest as the main characters, a young couple meeting and marrying in London. Oliver is a policeman turned artist, and Flora had an interesting war against which the peacetime world is a little dull. Oliver's sister Clemency, a brilliant mathematician, also features and is perhaps my favourite character - A Quest for Clemency is also my favourite in the series. This series is beautifully researched and the historical setting is perfect.


Thursday, 8 February 2018

Blog Tour: The Good Man

The Company Files: The Good Man by [Valjan, Gabriel]
Jack Marshall had served with Walker during the war, and now they work for The Company in postwar Vienna. With the help of Leslie, an analyst who worked undercover gathering intelligence from Hitler’s inner circle, they are tasked to do the inconceivable: recruit former Nazis with knowledge that can help the U.S. in the atomic race. But someone else is looking for these men. And when he finds them, he does not leave them alive.

In this tale of historical noir, of corruption and deceit, no one is who they say they are. Who is The Good Man in a world where an enemy may be a friend, an ally the enemy, and governments deny everything?

 The Author:
Gabriel Valjan

 ... about whom I have very little information! A mystery man, perhaps, like the characters in his book.

My review: 
Raymond Chandler rewrites John le Carre in this spy thriller in post-war Vienna. An American unit is trying to identify, protect, and ultimately use, Nazi survivors who might have valuable information on Russia. It hits the ground running, and though it lacks the wit of Chandler and the atmosphere of le Carre it keeps the pace nicely.  What did I dislike? Occasionally the writing is a little too pretentious or over-detailed, and sometimes there is a muddle where it’s not quite clear whose pronouns are what, not helped by a bit of skipping about of the point of view.  Some of his key indicators of a British person are not accurate for the period (or even for now).  But the plot holds together and skips along, there’s plenty of room for the sequel (already available) to develop, and the historical note at the end is both interesting and useful.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Crime Tour of Scotland and a new Conyngham Scale!

Death on a Longship (Cass Lynch Mysteries Series Book 1) by [Taylor, Marsali`]

 This year, following last year’s Literary Houses thread, I’m off on a Tour of Scotland in Twelve Crime Writers. I wish I were! Though I daresay there’ll be trips to Edinburgh and St. Andrews, and there’s an Orkney excursion booked, but some of the destinations will only be made on paper, not in the flesh (or in the Scotrail carriage).

I’m going to start, though unintentionally, at the top, with Shetland, and Marsali Taylor.

Perhaps there should be a warning on these books, the Cass Lynch or Shetland Sailing series (it’s the same thing), for if you’re inclined to any mal de mer you may suffer as you read. I can’t look at a boat without feeling slightly iffy, but it’s worth fighting it for the plot, and indeed for the romance which is gently done. Cass Lynch is deliberately hard to get on with at first: she is prickly, know-it-all without being self-confident, deeply insecure. But in the first person narrative she definitely grows on the reader, as do the self-sufficient folk of Brae, where the novels are mostly based. They are not lush with description but a light touch sets the scenes well, and the people stand out as real characters that develop over what I at first thought was a trilogy. I’m delighted now to be reading the fourth book and there is already a fifth book: Cass has matured and come to terms with her odd background, though she is still trying to choose between love and sea (I know which I would pick, but I can still feel her agonies).

I’d love to establish a kind of universal indicator paper for crime novels, a pH scale that shows noir at one end and cosy at the other (I hasten to add that this is purely subjective, for one person’s cosy is often another person’s traditional, or 3.5 on the Conyngham Scale). If 1 is noir and 7 is cosy, this series is around the 5 mark: not much blood, sex or swearing and there is a cat, but the people feel very real.

Now, some places will also have an also-ran (some places have several), and in Shetland’s case that’s Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series, main character the dreamy, sensitive Jimmy Perez. I love these books, and I also enjoy the BBC series, though heaven knows whether or not the scriptwriter had ever read the books beyond picking out the names from the text. Dougie Henshall is lovely but he doesn't look remotely like Jimmy Perez, and the overarching plot is completely inside out. The local gen is that Marsali’s books have a much more authentic Shetland feel to them: I’m not a Shetlander, so I can’t commit myself, so I’d strongly recommend reading all the series by both authors – can’t say fairer than that!

Monday, 15 January 2018

Indie Reading Challenge

Hebridean Storm: Book One of The Matt Macaulay Trilogy by [Libby, Patterson]

Right, here's the first of my Indie authors for the year, and a new author to me, too. She's Libby Patterson, and the book is Hebridean Storm, apparently the first in a trilogy though No.3 is not yet out

I heard about this on a Facebook group and thought I’d give it a go, and first I’d like to pass quickly over what’s not good about it, just to get it out of the way. The cover is dull, and the book could do with a good edit – there are sentences that aren’t sentences, and wandering commas everywhere. It certainly doesn't feel as if it's written by a Scot (not that that is a problem, and indeed it gives some bite to the newcomers' reactions to the island), but at least there is some local knowledge. Right, that’s done. This is a cracking yarn, more of a light thriller than a whodunit, but with a keen sense of place both in Glasgow and on South Uist. The good characters are three dimensional with depths to them that will allow for the sequel at least to be interesting. The bad characters are a little less well drawn, but still have their quirks. It’s well worth fighting through the editing to enjoy the story, and I’ll be reading the next one which I see is already out. This almost made it on to my concurrent Crime Tour of Scotland, but not quite!


Wednesday, 3 January 2018


This year's reading challenge! Got a lot on so I'm just going for the Amateur level (1-24 books - or in fact twelve). I muddled my challenges with the 'writers new to you' challenge and thought it had to be indie writers new to me, so this is a bit of a mixture! I'll be back shortly on this with a review of Libby Patterson's Hebridean Storm, which fits both categories anyway.

Meanwhile I have three books on offer on Amazon Kindle for 99p this week - Thicker than Water, Jail Fever and A Murderous Game - if you don't have them already, time to grab them!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Happy New Year!

Third edition of the Ballater Bugle has gone out today to those on the mailing list, along with a short story - let me know if you think you should have it and haven't! contact@kellascatpress.co.uk.

Our internet was misbehaving over Christmas, so I hope everyone had as good a one as they could, and now I can at least wish you a very Happy 2018. And many excellent books, and the opportunity to read them!

Friday, 1 December 2017

November - December literary house

                                                          Well, for November I was going to go to Ratty's lovely hole in
                                                          the riverbank, but instead, as the snow is falling and it's already
                                                          December, it's this children's book:

The Dark Is Rising: Modern Classic by [Cooper, Susan]

The Dark is Rising This was the book, and the house, that started it all, because I try to read this one every December as the daylight fades and the cold bites. Officially it’s the second in The Dark is Rising series, coming after Over Sea, Under Stone, but it’s the only one that has been filmed (don’t bother watching it, read the book) and it’s probably the only one that can be read as a standalone.

‘It will be a bad night,’ said Mr. Dawson, ‘The Walker is abroad, and this night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining.’

Will, the hero, on the verge of his eleventh birthday, is the youngest of a family of nine children and the house at Christmas, out in the country, is chaos.

‘“He said, remembering a duty: ‘I haven’t fed the rabbits yet. Want to come?’
‘Booted and muffled, they clumped out through the sprawling kitchen. A full symphony orchestra was swelling out of the radio; their eldest sister Gwen was slicing onions and singing; their mother was bent broad-beamed and red-faced over an oven. ‘Rabbits!’ she shouted, when she caught sight of them. ‘And some more hay from the farm!’
‘“We’re going!’ Will shouted back. The radio let out a sudden hiss of static as he passed the table. He jumped. Mrs. Stanton shrieked, ‘Turn that thing DOWN!’ …

The calm silence of the rabbit hutches and hen house are a relief, but then they return to the wonderful madness inside.

‘The grey world had slipped into the dark by the time they went back to the kitchen. Outside the window, their father’s battered little van stood in a yellow cave of light. The kitchen was even noisier and hotter than before. Gwen was setting the table, patiently steering her way round a trio of bent figures where Mr. Stanton was peering at some small, nameless piece of machinery with the twins, Robin and Paul; and with Mary’s plump form now guarding it, the radio was blasting out pop music at enormous volume. … Voices and laughter filled the long stone-floored kitchen as they sat round the scrubbed wooden table; the two Welsh collies, Raq and Ci, lay dozing at the far end of the room beside the fire.’

Clearly I’m drawn by large, messy families – the opposite really of what I’ve always had, so perhaps a ‘grass is always greener’ idea.

Dear Amazon  has done something bizarre with my sales figures for the last couple of days, so I  have no idea if the new Hippolyta is selling or not! I hope it will sort itself out soon. But in the meantime, I could either go and tackle some Christmas shopping, or I could go and find that well worn paperback and return once again to where the Dark is Rising! Now, which?