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

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

May's reading

June has been hectic so far, and as so often I'm a little late with what I read in May! Some good stuff, though: read on.

A Long Way From Home

Brian Caves, A LongWay from Home: This is set in 1960s Florida, which is not a time or place that I much enjoy reading about. Nevertheless I felt the atmosphere was just right, the heat and the light and the racism spot on. I was reminded of Donna Tartt’s second book The Little Friend. A good complex plot that lulls you into thinking you know all the answers, then spinning you off again to further mystery.

The last three in the box set I began in April:

Murder of the Bride (DI Hillary Greene, #3)

Faith Martin, Murder of the Bride: Another entertaining read, this time edging into more rural Oxfordshire and dark doings in a cow byre. There’s a new boss for the team with secrets of his own, and a surprising, and tragic, ending – and plenty to think about for the next book.

Faith Martin, Murder in the Village: This time it’s a dead politician amongst the wealthy inhabitants of a picturesque Oxfordshire village, but that murder is wound about with the secrets concealed by Hillary’s new boss and the ongoing relationship between her sergeant and a senior officer. The three lines are well-entwined, along with the problems of dealing with the aftermath of Hillary’s late corrupt husband – there are solutions, but there is still an overhanging detail at the end that makes one want to read on.

Faith Martin, Murder in the Family: The fifth in the box set, and another entertaining read. It scrabbles a little quickly towards the finish, and there are clearly going to be major changes in Hillary’s team. On the whole I found this an easily read, interesting series, not too challenging, sometimes very thought-provoking, and with enough charm to make me want to read some more.

Murder at Mondial Castle (The Discreet Investigations of Lord and Lady Calaway #1)

Issy Brooke, Murder at MondialCastle: This begins with the curious note to the reader that it is written in British English – clearly anticipating an American audience. I felt for a British reader this aroused expectations of good grammar, and for the most part this was what I found (there are some lapses, and some modern phrases, and I was a bit surprised to find that every one of the earl’s daughters was married to a range of husbands, but these things can happen. Grouse hunting, rather than grouse shooting, was a novelty for me). It’s set in the 1890s (though it feels earlier), and kept my interest fairly well, setting itself up for the start of a series.

Midnight at Malabar House (Malabar House #1)

Vaseem Khan, Midnight atMalabar House: Persis is the first female detective in the Bombay police force, in this prickly novel set just after Partition. Persis herself, brought up in a bookshop, is socially awkward and professionally ambitious. The writing is of high quality (though I wasn’t sure about an onion skin unravelling) and there is a great deal of interest about the political situation and recent history, the ambiguities of a recently-liberated country and its relationship with its late overlords. Some of the plot reviews are a bit repetitious and there were a few bits I didn’t feel were fully explained, but I liked the Christie-esque gathering of the suspects at the end and the overall explanation.

The Good Knight (Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries, #1)

Sarah Woodbury, The GoodKnight: The first in the Gareth and Gwen series, this started off a bit stilted and disjointed, and had a few modern phrases and American usages that jarred. I wanted to like it, having seen it around for a while, and I enjoy both mediaeval murder mysteries and Welsh ones, but I found it hard to get into and I’m not wholly sure why. I'm sure it has plenty of enthusiastic fans.

False Value (Rivers of London, #8)

False Value, Ben Aaronovitch: It’s hard to come up with an interesting review for a book later on in this kind of series. To say ‘the mixture as before’ makes it sound dull, which this is not: Peter is in a different job and is expecting to become a father very shortly, but already he’s tangled in a plot with multiple references to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and (at the beginning) odd, confusing time jumps. Lots of laughs, some scary stuff, and a bit more about Nightingale’s history, as well as Lovelace and Babbage – a great mixture, as always.

The Dalai Lama's Cat and the Power of Meow (The Dalai Lama's Cat, #3)

The Power of Meow, David Michie: The author of The Dalai Lama’s Cat continues here with a light-hearted study of meditation in the life of HHC herself, His Holiness’ Cat. This is written from the point of view of someone who knows cats very well and is immersed in the life of Dharamsala, locals and incomers alike.

A Study in Stone (Devonshire mysteries #1)

Michael Campling, A Study in Stone: Interesting and relatively gentle crime novel set in Exeter and surroundings, with Dan, a man staying in the area who resents not being in London, working with his new neighbour, a retired teacher and countryman. Dan is borderline aggressive while Alan is more laid-back and this does not immediately go for a good working relationship. They are accidentally but irresistibly investigating an odd inscription and a hundred-year-old mystery. It’s quite gentle but realistic and the characters are well-drawn. And there’s an archive in it – though that was a bit odd, as I’ve never known an archive yet where they know exactly how many documents they have, or keep them in sealed drawers. But who knows? The book works well.

And what am I doing? I'm writing a Murray novella just at present, which will be available to those on the mailing list for now. I'm waiting to do some research when things open up in Edinburgh so that I can write something I had not initially planned, a kind of sequel to The Slaughter of Leith Hall (set about twenty years later, though). Once that's finished, I hope to get back to a Viking book - though whether or not I get to Orkney to prepare for it or not is very much up in the air just now!

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Blog Tour: Insincerely Yours, by Manasi Singh

 This looks like fun!





All Ray wanted was to have some fun. Little did she know that what began as a harmless midnight adventure would soon end up being the most terrifying night of her life.


Shuttling back and forth between the States and whichever obscure Indian town her civil servant father was transferred to, Atreya ‘Ray’ Sen’s life has always been on the move. When she comes down to sleepy old Visakhapatnam and befriends Mira, Ray hopes she could be a successful means of whiling away her summer. When Mira invites her to a late-night adventure with Mira’s boyfriend and his pals, Ray jumps at the chance for some excitement. When one of the boys suggests they take a detour to one of Vizag’s most famous haunted houses, the night takes a turn for the dark. The spirit of a mean old man seems to be following them, killing them off one by one.

A near-death experience reveals to Ray that she is the only one who can bring peace to him. Now, Ray must race against time to find a way to save her family and friends, or else the once-peaceful town of Vizag would witness a bloodbath like never before.

An old Victorian mansion with a dark history … a spirit with a vengeance … a girl with no memory of her past …

Will Ray be able to stop the killings in time? Or will she be left with no friends and no family yet again?

Book Links:

Goodreads * Amazon.in * Amazon.com



Real Life Incident that inspired Insincerely Yours

 

In the words of Stephen King, we make up horrors to cope with the real ones. But what if the horrors written are a part of reality? What if the tale is written not just as fiction, but as a memoir to the unexplained that occurred years ago, yet bears fresh imprints in mind? 

When I sat down to write this story, I had to resurrect memories from my college days, from that fateful night, when my friends and I had decided to have our own little late-night adventure. Back then, we were just stupid college freshmen who didn’t have a care in the world, who would go lengths for cheap thrills from the world of the supernatural. Here, I bring you the real-life story that inspired me to write Insincerely Yours

Our night started on the cliché note of being cold and stormy. We had found our source for horror stories: our friend Vishnu. Vishnu would always keep us at the edge of our seats with his storytelling, and that evening was no different. We had assembled in a circle around him, drinks in our hands, when he started telling us about the legendary haunted house that stood proud just off the path to the beach in Vizag. As the story goes, the house belonged to a retired colonel and his family. They kept to themselves, but the neighbors often complained of yelling and fighting coming in the evenings. One night, the house fell silent, and the neighbors saw an eerie glow emanate from the windowpanes. When they went over in the morning to check, they found that the Colonel’s family had disappeared overnight. The house was still as is, sans the family that had once lived in it. Nobody knows where they went, and the watchman claimed he never saw anyone leave the house. Their mysterious disappearance gave rise to the stories that the house is haunted. 

Scoffing at his words, my friends and I decided to check it out for ourselves. So off we went, Shreya, Swetank, Vishnu and I, on a drunken midnight visit to the famous haunted house. The house had a sinister look to it, with the front lawn stretching before us, coated with dried grass, exactly how I chose to describe in the book. Inside, the house looked like someone had lived here years ago, and had suddenly just chosen to walk out. The place oozed with a cold vibe, and I wasn’t the only one who felt it. We decided to explore the house a little, and each room creeped us out a little more than the next. Most of the belongings of the house had turned to debris owing to a cyclone that had wreaked havoc in Vizag a year ago, but there was one room that had managed to stay intact. Intrigued, we stepped in bravely, and immediately, we felt helpless. It was like the place had sucked the happiness out of our lives as a blanket of depression descended on us. We saw muddy footprints going towards the bathroom, and opened the door to find the room painted in vantablack, the darkest color known to humanity, often the sign of evil. The room started feeling like it was sucking the energy out of us, slowly as it grew. Swetank, being the most sensible of us, insisted we get some fresh air at the balcony we had seen on our way into the room. At the balcony, we felt the sudden weight the room had given us lift off us, and we slowly relaxed into conversation. In the entire time we were in that house, I kept getting this feeling that someone was watching us. As we were talking, I felt something move from the corner of my eye, and turned towards the balcony door, where I saw five shadows. Four was of us standing in the balcony, but one was coming from inside the house. As I turned around quickly to see if anyone else had noticed, I saw Swetank looking pale as a sheet. We saw the shadow stay for a few seconds, and it suddenly disappeared, vanishing. At this point, Swetank and I ushered the other two out of the house, and made a run for it. All we knew was that the old Victorian mansion housed something that was pure evil, so dark that even one hour in that place had left us feeling soulless for days after. Swetank and I promised then and there that we would never meddle with forces outside of our control ever again, but as you all know, promises are meant to be broken.   

 


About the Author:



Manasi Singh is a lawyer, graduated from one of the top law schools in India in 2019. Lawyer by day and reader by night, Manasi always had a lot of stories to share, which she did by publishing short stories and articles in newspapers, magazines and journals. In 2019, she began writing short snippets on social media under the name “The Vanilla Writer”, shortly after which she published her first novel “As Fates Would Have It”, which was received warmly by readers of all ages. Manasi is a firm believer in art and creativity not being restrained in any way, which is why she writes short stories, fiction novels, screenplays for short films, and much more.

 


 

Manasi on the Web:
Twitter * Instagram * Facebook 

 



Saturday, 22 May 2021

Answer to a query on 'An Indian Affair: From Riches to Raj'


I've only recently discovered the comments on this blog (I know, a bit slow) and someone in January 2019 asked if I still had the book 'An Indian Affair' which I read as part of my research for The Tender Herb (Murray 6). I've been looking for it ever since and finally found it along with the other India-related books I read around that time!

So if that person is still paying attention to this blog, I don't know how to reply directly to you but the answer to the question is this: the only information given about the cover image is that it is copyright The British Library - sorry!



Monday, 10 May 2021

The Corrupted Blood - out now!

 


Hippolyta Napier was hoping for good tenants for her new cottage, but the first resident is already dead. Who was he? Why was he there? And will the disappearance of a fitness instructor and the strange activities of a new bride offer any clue to the mystery?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Corrupted-Blood-Hippolyta-Napier-Book-ebook/dp/B0938C8HNJ

Enjoy!

Friday, 7 May 2021

A Catch-up on March and April reading

 Yes, I did manage to squeeze in a few books in March and April, though I must say time seems to be racketing past! So here they are in no particular order:

                      books!)



Ice Escape, Beatrice Hale: Here's a lovely little adventure story for about 7 - 10 year olds, based on real events. In 1932 the American Flying Family, the Hutchisons, decided to try to be the first family to fly around the world, but unfortunately this plan did not coincide with that of a Canada goose which hit one of the engines, and the plane came down on the coast of Greenland. Amazingly they were rescued by the crew of an Aberdeen fishing trawler, and the writer of this fictionalised account is the grand-daughter of one of the crew. Well-researched and very realistic!

Murder on the Oxford Canal (DI Hillary Greene, #1)

Faith Martin, Murder on the Oxford Canal: I’d read one later in this series some time ago and enjoyed it, and decided to go back to what I think is the beginning. It’s an interesting set-up – promising police officer dealing with the fact that not only has her husband died, but he was a corrupt copper, too, and investigations will follow. In the midst of this a body is found in the canal, and off we go for a fairly entertaining read and the start to a long series. There’s a fair amount of jumping between points of view, but actually it sort of works, and the intertwining of the two kinds of investigation makes for a decent plot.

Murder at the University (DI Hillary Greene, #2)

Faith Martin, Murder at the University: This begins to build nicely on the characters established in the first book of the series and is quite a satisfying read. I do like Hilary and her colleagues (some more than others) and these are entertaining books.

For Their Sins: a gripping crime thriller (DI Alec McKay Book 5)

For Their Sins, Alex Walters: The fifth in the Alex McKay series set in the Black Isle, all of which I have very much enjoyed. One of the factors is the overhang of cases from one book to another, possibly making them less effective as standalones but definitely making them more convincing as a series (hints of Susan Hill here). The team in these police procedurals is appealing, including the elegant, athletic Ginny Horton and the controlled and private Helena Grant – it’s also refreshing to have a detective who is getting his marriage back together, rather than watching it fall apart. Other characters wander in from previous books and add to the sense of an actual community rather than an episodic history. This book was also written during the pandemic and has casual references to it, really occurring quite naturally as they now do in conversation in a changed world. It works rather well.

The Unwilling Heir (Brighton Heirs Book 4)

The Unwilling Heir, Cecilia Peartree: This traditional series, with a touch of romance, is becoming more and more accomplished, and I think, though this is the last official Brighton Heir, there might be a spin-off. We start here with a head injury and amnesia and two young ladies in trouble, and as usual things grow more complicated from there. I enjoyed the accuracy of the time setting and the usual romp with smugglers and their ilk along the south coast, and the general sense that though troubles may arise, good will prevail. Very enjoyable!

The Raven and the Reindeer

The Raven and the Reindeer, T. Kingfisher: A retelling of The Snow Queen, this is witty, as befits Kingfisher, but just as chilling as the original. There are some seriously bizarre moments here to do with reindeer, and the otters are wonderful, but mostly I’d like to take the raven home for company.

The Concert
Faith Martin, Murder at the University: This begins to build nicel

Ismail Kadare, The Concert: Set in Albania, this novel, darkly comic in places, tells the story from several perspectives of the breakdown in relations between Albania and China in the 1970s. It’s full of black humour and personal sorrows, and the minute interpretation of tiny variations in international protocol from which massive shifts in policy are derived, notably the accidental stepping, by an Albanian engineer, on a Chinese delegate’s toe. Particularly alarming or amusing, depending on your perspective, is the mad, manufactured world of Mao Zedong, trying simultaneously to manipulate and to ignore the countries around China and distrusting all of them. Points of view vary and switch, making you wonder who you can trust. Discredited officials are driven mad just by being ignored, or by thinking they are being ignored. Families try to beat the system, without ever quite understanding what the system is. There are some nice pithy observations on the situation in Albania and China. The plot culminates in a visit to China by one of the main characters, with stories derived from what he sees there and eventually a mysterious concert, attended by party leaders and foreign dignitaries, from which the party leaders leave unexpectedly early, because Mao is dying. The endgame, though, is a playful discussion of truth, historical account and warped narratives, and how regimes can distort, wilfully or not, the account of what really happened – assuming anybody knows.

The Wayward Alliance

The Wayward Alliance, J.R. Tomlin: An awkward start, with lots of repetitions of words – could have done with a bit of an edit. However, the pace picks up and the setting of mediaeval Perth is quite well done, more by portraying people than by describing the setting. There are a few Americanisms: in a book set around this date one cannot object to alternative spellings, but the use of the word ‘block’ in a mediaeval context is tricky to take. Even I found a bit of the mediaeval Scots a little heavy here and there, some scenes could have done with an edit to improve intelligibility, and beyond the main character it was hard to get to grips with the cast, but on the whole this was a good read.

Becca

Becca, Kath Middleton: As I began to read this book, I was often frustrated by the characters and their difficulties in recognising what was happening in their lives, much as I felt sorry for them. By halfway I’d got past the feeling of ‘Heavens, this is sad’ and reached an excited ‘Oh, this might turn out all right – but how?’ but still with a sense of dread because I know a Kath Middleton book can go almost anywhere! I’ll not say whether or not it does, and whether or not my frustrations were allayed. This is not an easy read by any means, but one that leaves you with plenty to think about and characters that live on in your head. It really played with the emotions. Another excellent read from Middleton.


Viking Ferry

Viking Ferry, Maressa Mortimer: This is an original set-up – a woman taking a late night cross-Channel ferry is kidnapped by a troop of Vikings. It’s not clear where she is, for once she sees a cruise ship from the Viking ‘castle’ and tries to attract its attention. Her relationship with her captors is, quite reasonably, confused – she tries to forgive them, but struggles with the men’s violence and the women’s complacency. Some very practical tips here on how to escape Vikings – or indeed any captivity – and how to face it with integrity.

Antiques and Alibis (Cass Claymore Investigates Book 1)

EAntiques and Alibis, Wendy H. Jones: A lively, sarky, sharp start to a series with an ex-ballet dancer from a large and colourful family attempting to rescue her late uncle’s investigation business along with his antisocial dog and a mysterious but charming ex-con called Quill.

Front Page News (London, #1)

Front Page News, Sadie Gordon Richmond: I was a bit intrigued by this because I know a few Richmond Gordons but no Gordon Richmonds – and apparently she dreams of living on the east coast of Scotland, where many Gordons do indeed have their homes. Anyway, it was a free offer, and I thought I’d give it a go. Rather elegantly written, this is set around north-west London on my old stomping ground of the Edgware branch of the Northern Line. I found it a bit difficult to relate to either of the police officers – they were lightly sketched despite some elaborate back stories, but they might, if this is a series, develop into well-rounded characters. One slightly weird point where the police consult a recent census return in the local library to find out who was living at a particular address (not permitted, and electoral rolls would be better), but otherwise this was a pretty interesting book, until it finished abruptly without much of a resolution. Would I read the next one? At present, I’m not quite sure – I like a story to finish properly, not just tail off.

Death in Delft (Master Mercurius Mysteries, #1)

Death in Delft, Graham Brack: This has been coming up on my Amazon pages for a bit, and I thought I might as well try it. The setting is very appealing, winter in 17th century Delft with Vermeer among the characters. I was quickly drawn in: the main character is interesting and those he meets are cleverly drawn, and I felt I was really involved in the place. Thoroughly good read.

A Snowball's Chance in Hell (DCI Logan Crime Thrillers #9)

A Snowball’s Chance in Hell, J.D. Kirk: Vigilantes are in control here for a complicated plot where even the perpetrators, when caught, might or might not be guilty. Poor Olivia Maximuke is in trouble again, too, but the plots intertwine and no doubt she will surface again in future books. The team are as always hilarious, particularly the awful Bob Hoon, always there with the apposite turn of phrase just when you don’t expect him. I’d like to see him meet Roberta Steele from the Stuart MacBride books – and then I’d like to leave the room quite quickly and watch from a safe distance.

Ahead of the Game (DCI Logan Crime Thrillers #10)

Ahead of the Game, J.D.Kirk: This series is becoming dangerous in the extreme – I can no longer eat or drink while reading for fear of choking with laughter. The fact that it is also exciting and poignant is masterful.

Killing Jericho (Scott Jericho #1)

Will Harker, Killing Jericho: Great start to this with an unfamiliar (to me) setting of an ex-cop, ex-con fairground dweller drawn to look into a mysterious travellers’ legend, while fighting off flashbacks to one unsuccessful, traumatic case. It’s exciting, disturbing and mysterious, and one of those books where you’re not quite sure whom to trust – and you’d probably be right.

Murder at Christmas: Ten Classic Crime Stories for the Festive Season

Murder at Christmas: A collection of short stories by some of the classic greats – Sayers, Ellis Peters, Michael Innes, Margery Allingham – which makes for an excellent seasonal read, just perfect for a winter’s evening. The fact that I read it in April is not the fault of the book. I had read the Sayers one before but still enjoyed its curious menace, and the others were all excellent.

Orkney

Orkney, Amy Sackville: A curious, wistful book, the account (sort of from the professor’s point of view) of a honeymoon in a remote part of Orkney for a professor and his much younger, pale and distant student. In a series of vignettes the story of their relationship, brief though it has been, is told alongside their stay in a small cottage, their apparent devotion to each other, her secretive and odd behaviour, her nightmares. Gradually wistfulness turns to sorrow, to tragedy. You could say ‘He should have …’, ‘they should have …’, ‘if only …’ but no: this had to happen, in its lyrical language and wintry stormy stillness.

The Night Raids (Nighthawk #3)

The Night Raids, Jim Kelly: This is the third book in the series about a Cambridge policeman, scarred by the First World War, operating during the Second. With his sight damaged in the desert, and chronic insomnia, he likes to move about the city by night and swim in the river, and both these things, along with his wife’s work as a nurse, give him a particular insight into wartime Cambridge. There’s a unique, sepia atmosphere about these books, and a steady and well-written pace about them. This one has to do with looting with violence and two missing people who might be connected with it, set against a background of exhausted anxiety as Cambridge undergoes air raids and family members are overseas.

Miss Pym Disposes

Josephine Tey, Miss Pym Disposes: Is this a classic murder mystery, as the blurb describes it? I'm not sure it is - the 'murder' happens very close to the end. But it is a classic in terms of the way it builds suspense, examines situations and characters, develops relationships, even in a couple of weeks of book time. Remarkable writing. I’ve enjoyed several of Tey’s books before but for some reason missed this one.

The Tapestry Bag: A gripping mystery, full of twists and turns: Volume 1 (A Janie Juke mystery)

Isabella Muir, The Tapestry Bag: Set in the 1960s this begins as a missing person mystery: Janie’s friend disappeared from her house after her boyfriend died in a road accident, and though the police seem to have heard something about what is becoming a cold case, they won’t tell Janie anything. Janie, in the midst of pregnancy, mobile library work and supporting her husband and her blind father, is desperate to find a woman that no one else seems much concerned about. Rather a sad book about underachievement, but in the end a satisfying plot.

Life and Death in the Woods

Cecilia Peartree, Life and Death in the Woods: Max is a little like the delightful Christopher in the Pitkirtly books, but this has a more McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street feel to it – as well as ringing true of Edinburgh museum life. It’s a little darker, and the plot has more in the way of tragedy. Some of the characters Max has to deal with are unpleasant and difficult, though perhaps not the hand-knitted archivists! I liked Max very much, and I hope we might see more of him in the future.

The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic (Shopaholic, #1)

The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic, Sophie Kinsella: I had no sympathy for Rebecca, the shopaholic of the title, but I thought I could perhaps see the way the book was going, deliberately aiming her for redemption. She is feckless, spendthrift, selfish and superficial. By a quarter of the way through I wanted to slap her, and accompany her through the day so that she managed to control her lunatic spending and unrealistic lies. There is a bit of a subtext on the easiness of credit and the willingness of some financial bodies to let people get into debt, but it seemed a little understated. She has one redeeming moment, but then ruins it and careers along her own particular path to self-destruction – she needs help, and all she gets is money. Not a very satisfactory book for me.

Grimm Up North (DCI Harry Grimm, #1)

David J. Gatward, Grimm up North: When I started this I wasn’t at all sure it was the book I was expecting – the beginning is brutal. But in connexion with this brutality Grimm is sent to Yorkshire, and despite his conviction that nothing happens there, he is soon involved in a complicated crime. It’s funny, and clever, and slips stunning snippets of landscape (and food) into the narrative so we can see how Grimm is subtly entranced by his new surroundings. Think I’ll enjoy this series!

Country Cat Blues: A cosy mystery with a darkly funny edge (Cat Noir Series Book 2)

Alison O’Leary, Country Cat Blues: The follow up to the not-as-cosy-as-it-sounds Street Cat Blues, this is similarly slightly edgy with some dry humour, mostly directed at the awful inner city Sir Frank’s school. O’Leary skilfully blends this humour with some dark reflections on children in care, emotional dependency and fear of losing one’s home, all in a satisfying plot.

Who Killed Miss Finch?: A quirky whodunnit with a heart (Edward Crisp, #1)

Peter Boon, Who Killed Miss Finch?: I was in the mood for this, and the title gives nothing away you can’t guess in the first three or four pages. Indeed by then you are rather looking forward to the murder of Miss Finch (and you could throw in Gracie too), and you might even sit on the sidelines and cheer. This is a cosy set in an East Sussex coastal village, with an investigating team of the school librarian and his pupil assistant, both of them with their challenges in life. – rather touching and the set-up for a good series.

If you've made it this far, well done!

As to my own work in progress at present, it's in the tossing-ingredients-in-and-seeing-if-a-plot-comes-out stage. Who knows? Anyway, pick a book and enjoy!