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

Monday 28 March 2016

March reading

I'm on Chapter Fifteen of Slow Death by Quicksilver, and a day behind due to various complexities over the Easter weekend which I might allude to in future (don't, is my advice, look for adders in the rain). Anyway, that's about 3/5 of the way, and the plot is looking a bit like a plot, so I should be grateful!

This month’s reads have included the latest work from Michael Brookes, horror, science fiction and fantasy author (these are genres I dip into so though I’m aware there are complex subdivisions, I’m probably trampling over them here!). Michael is on his second trilogy besides stand-alone books, as well as being a thoroughly active short story writer, reviewer and blogger at thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk The intriguingly titled

comes from his first trilogy.

A mystical and chilling book, almost in two parts as the style changes from one half to the other in impressive fashion. It’s reminiscent of the better kind of Dan Brown (i.e. not written by Dan Brown) novel, but also shows strong Lovecraftian influences. Here’s the blurb:

Stealing Lazarus’s miracle gifted him immortality. Combined with his natural ability of invading and controlling people’s minds this made him one of the most dangerous people on Earth. But the miracle came with a price. His punishment was to be imprisoned within the walls of an ancient monastery and tormented by an invisible fire that burned his body perpetually. To escape the pain he retreated deep into his own mind. There he discovers the truth of the universe and that only he can stop the coming Apocalypse.

Faust 2.0 is the first in the Mitchell & Morton series
‘A new entity is born into the internet.

Is it the rebirth of an ancient evil in a new realm? Or something much worse?

A sexy looking avatar grants wishes for people across the web, but nothing is truly free, and for those who accept, what price must be paid?

Sarah Mitchell must discover the truth of this creature and stop it while it can still be stopped, but why is a mysterious lawyer dogging her every step?’

A modern day multiple Faust, for after all demons have access to the Internet, too. Conspiracy theorists and paranoid readers will have lots to frighten them here! The ending is tantalising and I hope we're going to see more of the poor heroine, even though that will likely mean she will have to suffer even more.

I particularly enjoyed the pace of this book, for the suspense seemed to come in waves rather than constantly increasing.


This is the second in the series featuring the mysterious lawyer Morton and the ex-agent Sarah Mitchell. Resourceful and intelligent, she is a prisoner after the events of Book 1, the plan that she will give up all the information she has about the elusive Misty Felice. Dan, meanwhile, the subterranean computer geek of the first book is now working to analyse the Church of Virtual Saints, an enigmatic body with impressive computing powers. Complex and thoughtful, the plot examines not only the idea that dark powers might take over the world wide web for their own purposes, but the nature of being and faith themselves. My favourite so far.

This month's crime author is fellow St. Andrews graduate, Shirley McKay. Like Michael, she has a very active and interesting website and a strong series featuring the sixteenth century academic detective Hew Cullan, an appealing chap who is, yes, a St. Andrews graduate too. Shirley and I have had one or two conversations about the curious coincidences between our books and I understand that she has been thinking of a book set in Georgian Edinburgh!
The first in the series is Hue & Cry:
'1579, St. Andrews. A thirteen-year old boy meets his death on the streets of the university city of St. Andrews and suspicion falls upon one of the regents at the university, Nicholas Colp. Hew Cullan, a young lawyer recently returned home from Paris, uncovers a complex tale of passion and duplicity, of sexual desire in tension with the repressive atmosphere of the Protestant Kirk and the austerity of the academic cloister.'
Terrific book. The St. Andrews setting helped get me on side from the start but the writing was lovely, the plot pleasantly convoluted and the characterisation good. Excellent historical setting, very strong. I sat down and read it in a day - delicious luxury these days but well worth it!                  
'The year is 1581, and the young St Andrews academic Hew Cullan is unhappy with his life and disillusioned with the law. After his father's death he is invited by the advocate Richard Cunningham to complete his legal education in Edinburgh as Richard's pupil at the bar. Among his father's things Hew finds a manuscript entitled 'In Defence of the Law', directed to the Edinburgh printer, Christian Hall. At first, he resists its influence, but when a young girl is found dead on the beach at St Andrews, he is left unsettled and confused. He resolves to take the book to press and agrees to Richard's offer. Embarking on his new life in the capital, he falls in love. His relationships are fraught with lies and secrets and lead to brutal murder on the borough muir. Hew suspects a link with the dead girl on the beach. As he begins his desperate search to find the killer, he finds that the truth lies closer to home.'
Excellent again. Knew who had 'dunnit' from early on but wanted to see why. The setting is superb, the research thorough but lightly carried. Bring on the next one! 
'1582, St Andrews. In the swell of a storm, a ship is wrecked in St Andrews harbour. A young Flemish sailor, the last man aboard, collapses and dies at the inn. The cargo of the ship appears a welcome windfall but soon brings devastation to the town as petty squabbling turns to rage and tragedy. Hew traces the ship to its source in Ghent, where he uncovers a strange secret. Unwilling to allow the law to take its course, he returns once more to the bitter role of advocate, to find his deepest principles are tested to the core.'
I found this one particularly interesting and pleasantly domestic, away from some of the high-politicking of the others in the series. The settings were convincing and the technical detail fascinating.
'St Andrews, 1583. The young king James VI is confined at Falkland palace, plotting his escape. Dissension rages between Kirk and Crown, the king and his 'lord enterprisers', and between the separate factions of the church. In St Andrews Castle, a bishop in decline plays out his darkest fantasies, while Hew and his friend Giles investigate the true source of his sickness, uncovering corruption at its heart. The death of a young soldier, implicating Hew's sister and Giles's wife Meg, leads Hew to an astonishing discovery, and towards his blackest hour, his fortunes inextricable from those of James himself. Real historical figures interwoven in this fantastical tale are James VI, the bastard son of James V, spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham and Alison Pearson who was executed for witchcraft in 1588.'
A more complex plot and it was not obvious where we were going with this one until much further in, though as usual the historical detail and well-drawn characters make the ride an easy one. The language seemed somehow richer than usual, too, making it less of a headlong read and more one to savour.                  
Queen & Country is the latest in the series, and jumps forward several years in Hew Cullan's life - looking forward to it!


Tuesday 22 March 2016

Topping books!

The Tay was looking particularly beautiful this morning as I rocketed down on the East Coast Mainline to Leuchars for St. Andrews, laden with books to offer to Topping & Company, a lovely bookshop in Greyfriars Gardens (I seem to remember it used to be a rather posh china shop). They've agreed to take a few and see how they go - since I concentrate on e-book sales this is all new territory for me, and may simply die a death, but we'll see! A good cup of coffee and a friendly chat, then of course I couldn't resist buying a couple of books from their excellent crime section. Reviews to follow!

Friday 18 March 2016

The War, The Bones and Dr. Cowie - out today!

Far from the London Blitz, Marian Cowie is reluctantly resting in rural Aberdeenshire when a German ’plane crashes nearby. An airman goes missing, and old bones are revealed. Marian is sure she could solve the mystery if only the villagers would stop telling her useless stories – but then the crisis comes and Marian finds the stories may have a use after all.

This is an odd one, touch of maybe magical realism? Give it a go, anyway - it's only 99p just now!

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Blog tour - Blood Ties by Hazel West

I'm hosting a blog tour this week for Blood Ties, by Hazel B. West - lots of good stuff here! Synopsis, review and links - thanks to Hazel for the review copy, and good luck with the book!



In an Ireland that mixes high kings, faeries, and modern warriors who drive fast cars, Ciran, a descendant from the famous warrior Fionn Mac Cool, bands together with a company of young warriors from the legendary order of Na Fianna to go on a quest to recover their missing family members who were captured by the Goblins in a shaky peace between the two kingdoms. Ciran and his companions must figure out not only how they are going to rescue the prisoners, but how they are going to complete their mission without killing each other. Through trial and error, running battles, unexpected friendships, and daring escapes, Ciran and his company come face to face with the Goblin King himself in a final battle that will decide the fate of all involved and of Ireland itself.


The first book in a new series, Blood Ties takes the traditional Irish legends and puts a modern spin on them with a heavy helping of friendship and the love of family.


Title: Blood Ties (The Modern Tales of Na Fianna #1)

Genre: YA, Urban Fantasy, Alternate History
About the Author
Hazel West lives in Purgatory, er, Florida, with her books and her hedgehog Horatio. When she’s not writing, she’s reading other people’s books, studying folklore, or binge-watching something on Netflix—drinking coffee is also a given.

My Review:

This is a prettily presented YA adventure set in a romantic fantasy Ireland inspired by legends, but in which goblins and mobile phones can co-exist, not to mention fast cars. The story is narrated by Ciran who despite his father’s fears leads a band of warriors to seek his missing elder brother, kidnapped by goblins, and also the brother of the High King. Relations between brothers and friends are keenly examined in a rather male chauvinist world where the women stay at home to cook up feasts and make perfect apple pies, while the men go out to battle – the exception being Caitlin, the warrior maiden, who is one of the band of warriors on their mission, though even she does most of the cooking and laundry. The YA element creeps through amusingly – Ciran is mildly obsessed by his rival’s use of hair conditioner and cologne and Caitlin’s fetching tunics, as well as his fast cars, while he learns about the perils of leadership. I particularly liked Riordan, the slightly older certified berserker who practises yoga and knits while he waits for the battle to begin. There are good action scenes, particularly the main battle, and quirky expeditions into enemy territory (geographically Northern Ireland, interestingly) where they go to the trouble of percolating their coffee in their makeshift camps. The ending is slow but satisfactory, setting up the conditions for the next book rather than leaving us with a cliffhanger. There are also notes on the legends and two recipes! I made the one for sausage and cabbage soup (no, really, it’s delicious – very warming. I used red cabbage and green lentils, and because I couldn’t find sausagemeat in a hurry I went for Lorne sausage broken up. It was lovely!).

Product links:

Amazon Paperback




Sunday 6 March 2016

Blown glass


Well, I'm inordinately proud of this, and it's thanks to Ingrid and Meg. Last weekend I went down to Edinburgh for Ingrid's glass blowing workshop at Edinburgh College of Art, and had a terrific time (though I suspect, from the photographs of the event, I kept this well hidden behind frowns of deep concentration!).
From cowering at the edge of the superhot furnace, we progressed over the course of the day (via some fine food and snacks) to make marbles, a bauble, a whisky glass (in my case gently squint to allow for free flow of the spirit, as I can vouch as I write), a coloured bowl and finally a paperweight. With Ingrid slapping our hands back if we put them in any danger, we were able to apply jacks, blocks, tweezers, pincers and even wet newspaper with courage and determination (if not exactly skill) to make our much prized objects, which then disappeared into the annealing (hope that's spelled correctly!) furnace to be finished for us.
The fact we achieved (the four of us, for the classes are kept small for safety and to avoid the boredom of watching endless people have their go before you do) such dizzying heights of glassmaking in one day only makes me more impressed by every blown glass object I now pick up - to achieve consistency, accuracy, the shape and colour you actually set out to achieve, using tools that go back centuries with strange names to match, takes such experience and artistry and skill that I can only stand in awe of Ingrid and Meg.

My coloured glass bowl with its signature squint.

Well, all I can say is that Murray will probably meet some glass blowers in the near future!

Here's Ingrid's lovely work, and here is Meg's - clever, clever people!