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

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Orkney Viking Week and Ballater Bike Festival

Don't know what century I'm in at the moment!

If you're near Ballater this coming weekend I'll have a stall somewhere on the Green on Saturday for the Ballater Mountain Bike Festival - come and say hello!


And if you're anywhere online, Orkney Viking Week is part online and part live, and I'll be doing an online talk and reading next Thursday, 16th, at 7p.m. BST - there'll be an exclusive reading from the new book and a cover reveal!


Monday, 16 August 2021

Reading in July - even later than usual!

Some variety this month and some tremendously enjoyable books, including something spooky, something Biblical, something teenage and something romantic. Read on!


Soul Search (A Zackie Story of Supernatural Suspense, #1)

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.

Let Sleeping Murder Lie

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.

Ellie and the Harpmaker

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.

Cut Short

M.W. Craven, Short Cut: A small book of short stories featuring Tilly Bradshaw and Washington Poe in lockdown – very amusing.

The Reluctant Heir

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.

The Roman Heir (Argolicus #3)

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’.

Phoebe

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.

Everyday God: The Spirit of the Ordinary

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.

Lie Kill Walk Away

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.

Ted Darling Crime Series: Books 1-4 (Ted Darling #1-4)

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!). 

Friday, 2 July 2021

Interesting selection - June's reading

A smallish but varied selection last month:

Plague

Julie Anderson, Plague: A very London start, heading down into a part of the Underground being refurbished, where a burial chamber and informal ossuary has been found. The plot circles around Westminster and particularly the House of Lords, and the route of the Tyburn river, where a small organisation is gratifying the fantasies of important visitors to London. Cassie is trying to revive her own career while stepping warily around the upper echelons of the Civil Service. It’s an exciting thriller, though I thought that the plague element of it was lost and I had hoped for more about the historical features under London’s streets, not just the Tyburn. Still, it’s quite a good start for a series and I liked the setting, much of which is familiar to me.

The Heiress is Not at Home

Cecilia Peartree, The Heiress is not at Home: This is a companion series to the Missing Heirs series, and very much in the same lines. The action has moved to Dorset, where a young lady is very sensibly fleeing an unwelcome attempt to marry her off as a financial settlement. The plots are lively but more in the manner of a Georgette Heyer than a murder. Yet there is political action here as well as the ever present threat of smugglers – riots in Lyme Regis! This is another very intelligent and amusing read from this author.

The Identity Illusion (Pitkirtly Mysteries Book 22)

Cecilia Peartree, The Identity Illusion: Darn it, every time one of these books comes out I can’t resist dropping everything and heading back to Pitkirtly! This time Amaryllis’ sister makes an appearance, causing confusion and chaos in a manner that Amaryllis herself would be perfectly happy with. And is Christopher developing a backbone? And what is happening in the museum? Goodness, Pitkirtly might be the crime capital of Fife but the population feel like my dearest friends!

The Red Hill (Thomas Berrington #1)

David Penny, The Red Hill: Good atmosphere from the start, in 15th century Granada under the Sultan. A British man is his surgeon, and the sultan asks him to investigate a series of maimings and killings in the palace. It’s a bit repetitious – could have done with an edit, really – and the hero is not as bright as everyone thinks he is - there are a couple of points where he's just too busy to hear what the useful informant has to tell him - but the sense of place is really spot-on and the end sets up the series well.

Maxwell's House

M.J. Trow, Maxwell’s House: A knowing, brisk beginning with a dead girl in a murky, deserted house. The descriptions of schools and their management are amusing, but bitter, and the constant mimicry of actors and comedians is a little overdone. I preferred his Kit Marlowe series. But this has its interest, too, and when the teacher who is trying to take responsibility and find out more about the murders of his pupils is at risk of arrest for those murders, the plot becomes more sinister. Can the police, with their curiously dull senior officer, actually be trusted? Can the teacher? Or is that senior officer sharper than he seems?

Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens, Where the CrawdadsSing: As this book progressed I became more and more reluctant to read it. It begins miserably and improves, which usually leads to a disaster. I shan’t say whether or not that disaster happens – I did cry, I’ll say that much – but certainly this is a beautifully written book with a deep feeling for the marshes where it is set, so that you can hear the birds and smell the damp vegetation and feel the sea breeze. I’m glad I read it.

Extraordinary People (Enzo Files, #1)

Peter May, ExtraordinaryPeople: The first in the Enzo MacLeod series set in Paris and other parts of France. This is a real puzzle book, and an exciting chase with interesting characters, though you have to suspend quite a bit of disbelief for the plot. I had read May’s Lewis trilogy some time ago and found it quite hard to take entirely seriously, though they were well-written too. I then abandoned him for some years until I saw him interviewed at Granite Noir this year and found him very entertaining, so on the strength of that I bought this and the first in the China series.

Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine

Letters to a DiminishedChurch, Dorothy L. Sayers: Goodness, this could have been written last week, instead of just after the Second World War. Sayers is knowledgeable and witty, and can take us from the Apostles’ Creed to crime fiction to T.S. Eliot with ease and purpose, and you find yourself nodding and agreeing with all of it. Though there are excursions elsewhere, the main theme running through the book is human creativity, how it reflects that of God and how it is essential for our happiness and fulfilment in our spiritual life, whatever that life may be. The context of industrialisation, global crisis, economic struggles and celebrity culture are very familiar to us. My only regret is that this edition, which includes questions for discussion groups, also incorporates both American spellings and some odd, probably spellcheck related, errors I’m sure Sayers herself would have winced at.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends andInfluence People: If you took out all the business-related anecdotes about Mr. Smith from Delaware winning the contract for the diagonal steam traps from the intractable tycoon after attending the classes on winning friends, this book would be about a quarter of its size. But they are gently amusing, mostly, and they do reinforce the author’s simple points – be nice to people, imagine what they might want, remember their names and help them, and you will win the game. It’s a very American book – there are methods recommended that would come across as quite creepy in the U.K. – nevertheless, its advice is sound and given in an innocent, guileless fashion that negates my cynicism. And having heard of it for years, I was pleased finally to give it a read, even if there was only so much I could take of Mr. Smith’s business triumphs in one sitting.


And aside from reading, what am I up to? I'm waiting to be given access to an archive for some research for a new book that I can't really start until that happens, and toying with the idea of Orkneyinga 4. Only toying, though, so far!

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!