For some time I have been meaning to put some of my books into Kindle Unlimited to see whether it would improve the number of readers I can attract. I finally decided to do this for the series The Skilled Investigators because I have committed to a blog for National Crime Reading Month (this June): Bring Crime out of the Closet. The blog tour deals with crime involving mm romance and of course in my series Genef’s brother is gay and his search for a HEA forms the secondary plot arc of the books.
Putting books into KU means removing them from other platforms such as Smashwords as the sites do not play nicely together. No mention of ‘the other place’ is allowed on either. I thought it would be simply a matter of unpublishing then realised I would also have to change the back matter in all my Smashwords books to reflect the fact that the series was no longer available on Smashwords. I duly created a changed back matter that would hopefully not need to be changed again even if I ever put anything else into KU. Instead of a list that could need constant updating I just referred readers to my website and the buy links there. Simple? Well, no, because the act of uploading new versions seemed to snarl up a lot of formatting even though only one paragraph was the issue. I still have to reformat, completely, my two novels The Virgin and the Unicorn and The Seekers because somehow Smashwords have now found various errors that were not, to their knowledge or mine, evident when the books were first published. The books are available on Smashwords but can’t be distributed to other sites because the conversion to Epub fails. I could have understood errors in the new back matter but not in the body of the text.
Then putting the series into KU seemed like a simple procedure but for about 24 hours Amazon seemed to jumble up my entire output. It insisted I only had six books instead of 17. Then it arbitrarily gave a cost of: free with Kindle Unlimited; £230 to buy… though in fact the figure should have read £2.30. The power of the point… Sorted, but quite nerve-racking while it all lasted. And despite having published the books as a series, with volume numbers etc. carefully noted and all boxes ticked, Amazon doesn’t give the series below each book.
I get the impression that some authors manage to switch books between KU and other non-Amazon sites without all this chaos. I’d love to know how they do it!
I will keep you informed about how the trial of KU goes, and about the blog tour.
I decided to change the format of my reviews at least until someone complains. For the time being I’ll just do recommendations for five star viewing and reading for the month in question. I still have a full record of all I’ve watched and read but won’t share unless asked!
Here we go with recommendations from April.
Umbrella Academy S2***** Netflix. I am mesmerised by this series. Sci fi, adventure, and mystery with totally relatable characters. Will the gifted group save the world or is their presence the actual threat?
Carnival Row S2***** Amazone Prime. I adored Carnival Row and am sad that it finished but appreciate the explanation that the story is indeed over. However, I wish they’d think up another story using the same incredible world with all the detail – it seems such a waste not to! Season 2 was dark. At times I could barely watch, and it made Game of Thrones look tame. But it was wonderful and the ending was marvellously satisfactory.
Blue Lights***** BBCThis is a brilliant and superbly acted cop drama set in Belfast in the present day. Three new cops are being mentored by three ‘old hands’ and we are introduced to all kinds of believable back stories plus all kinds of believable crime. At times I left an episode not altogether sure whether I’d watched a drama or a real life story. I understand a second season has been commissioned and can’t wait.
Arthropoda by Xenia Melzer*****Excellent crime story with a detective who can talk to insects. A totally ‘new’ concept that makes for fascinating detection. There’s a hint of cop buddy romance but I suspect it’s going to go the bromance or ACE relationship router. I’m going to follow the series.
Madison Square Murders by CS Poe.***** Intriguing ‘cold’ case crime drama with fascinating detectives and a hint of mm romance. When I finished the last page I went straight to buy the second in this Memento Mori series.
How to love thine enemy by Eli Easton***** As usual, I am fascinated by this author’s world of dog shifters, both born that way and ‘quickened’ and this time she adds Inuit culture and locations.
Bought daffodils. The ones in our garden are the mini variety and we don’t pick them.
Both reading and viewing in one post this time.
The best of what I read:
Sloth and other delights by TJ Nichols***** I adore this series. The characters are so complex and interesting and the world building is amazing. To say that it follows a human cop and his dragon shifter partner doesn’t give it any of the nuances it deserves. I know there are at least two more volumes and am not sure whether to gobble them up or ration myself.
Keeper of Enchanted Rooms by Charlie N Holmberg***** Gorgeous mf romance set in an alternate universe where magic is normal but rare. Merritt inherits an enchanted house and Hulda is sent to help him adjust. There is plenty of danger, not least from the house, but also from a fascinating villain. The magic is interesting and unusual. Apart from the added magical element the period (mid nineteenth century) is beautifully evoked.
Deliverance by Jason Bray**** Fascinating real life Merrily (crime series about diocesan exorcist) and it seems Bray helped Rickman create some of Merrily’s cases and solutions. Probably mostly of interest if you follow the Rickman series.
The Knight and the Necromancer by AH Lee**** Interesting and three dimensional characters plus good world building and some fascinating magic. This is volume one; Roland and Sair have started to bond and Queen Daphne might be safe for now, but there is no resolution or even a HFN. I shall be reading the sequel.
Postscript by Anne Barwell**** A delightful mm romance featuring a magic bookshop and a possibly ghostly cat. I enjoyed both threads of the story, past and present, but am still slightly confused by the apparent time travel, something that always plays havoc with my brain.
Run Wild, Run Free by Fiona Glass**** Pleasant gentle romance set in ‘50s UK though I was a bit puzzled by the way 18 was referred to as a special birthday. At the time, 21 was the usual celebration. I was also concerned that Joe couldn’t access further education at an art college. He would have left school at 15 and gone ‘down the pit’ or stayed till 18 at which point his local authority would have provided further ed without cost to his parents.
Stone Skin by Jenn Burke**** Lovely sequel to Stone Wings. The cursed gargoyles make fascinating characters.
Queer Weird West Tales ed. Julie Bozza.**** As is usual for an anthology, this is a mixture of excellent and merely good. One story,The Train Ticket by Dannye Chase, really resonated with me. In my alter ego on AO3 I’m partially responsible for a collection of stories that echo this one: Ain’t no rest for the wicked: tales of the train ed moth2fic and rubyelf. The tales are not specifically fanfic but use fandom tropes and in some cases backgrounds. https://archiveofourown.org/collections/aintnorestforthewicked )
Safe House by Chris Ewan**** Unusual spy thriller set on Isle of Man.
The Peacekeeper by BI Blanchard**** Some brilliant world building in this crime story set in an AU where America was never colonised. However, although I enjoyed the details of the twentyfirst century life of Native Americans, I realised who the killer was long before it dawned on any of the police/peace keepers. Worth reading but I won’t follow the author.
Clueless by E Broom*** Cute story but the magic didn’t quite ring true
The Christmas Rescue by VL Locey*** Nice romance featuring the snowed-in trope.
Pole Position by Kristian Parker*** Thoroughly readable mm romance set in the world of Formula 1 motor racing and in the Queen’s Crescent ‘universe’ that the author is developing. I find it hard to get into the mindset of top sports people and although I watch and enjoy Formula 1 this didn’t appeal to me as much as I hoped.
Year of the Rat by Marshall Thornton*** Competent private investigator story about freeing an innocent man from prison. There were a lot of mysteries about the PI narrator and then right at the end he was linked to a different series and I was somehow disappointed.
Blinding Light by BL Maxwell*** A Rocktoberfest novel and this time there was plenty of interesting information about management and backstage things. However, the mm pairing agreed not to explore their feelings till after Rocktoberfest then when that was over we saw them leave, and the next chapter was an epilogue which assumed they were together. There was some explicit UST earlier but I found the ending disappointing.
On the third kiss by George Loveland. *** Pleasant mm romance, nicely written but with some tired tropes.
Still Life with Murder by Patricia Ryan*** Competent crime investigation story set in Boston, US, in the aftermath of the civil war. I wasn’t sufficiently drawn to the female sleuth to continue with the rest of the series.
Bear and Fred by Iris Argaman** Intended as a memorial to children uprooted by WWII, this is a disappointing book that glosses over some of the worse aspects of the children’s experiences and relies on the ‘ahh’ factor of the teddy bear. It’s a children’s book and is not, I think, the best of its kind. It compares very unfavourably with books like Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, and whilst it is perhaps aimed at even younger readers I feel if they aren’t old enough to hear sad stories they should perhaps be made to wait a while. It is also worth noting that the book is not really suitably formatted for ebook reading. I got it ‘free’ as an Amazon Prime first read but would have felt let down if I’d paid for it.
The Christmas Ghosts of Rothery Hall by Graham Peace. Abandoned. The style simply wasn’t for me so this isn’t an actual criticism, just an expression of personal taste.
Windswept and Interesting by Billy Connolly. Abandoned. Somehow, Billy’s humour and fierceness don’t come across in the written word the same way they do in live performances. I got bored very quickly.
I have been culling my tbr pile on my Kindle and have deleted a large number of books I should never have downloaded in the first place. I haven’t listed them and it wouldn’t, in most cases, even be fair to say I abandoned them as I didn’t read more than a few pages. (Less than the ‘sample’ Amazon tend to offer!) I think once upon a time I was beguiled by offers of free books, and in some cases of extremely cheap ones. I hope I have learnt my lesson. The cull continues…
The Third Man***** I didn’t mean to watch but got hooked for yet another viewing. Brilliant as ever.
Vera 12:Episodes 2 and 3 (ITVX)***** As I’ve said before, I love this series, not least because it’s set in my native city.
The Bay Series 4**** (ITVX) I think the cop show set in Morecambe has developed well and it’s good the way the cops’ personal problems are not only made very real but don’t overshadow the crime plot. They also feed into it in unexpected ways.
Unmasking my autism – Charlotte McGuiness BBC**** Interesting programme looking at autism in women.
The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse.**** Animated film for children and adults first shown at Christmas and still available on iPlayer for the rest of the year. Recced last month and it got an Oscar for best animated short so I thought I’d mention it again.
The Night Stalker My5**** Real life crime in Perth, Australia. It was interesting to compare their policing with ours (UK), and the reactions of the victims added to the effect of the show.
The Blob***(and the real one***). I can’t recall the name of the ‘real’ programme (or which channel both were shown on) but it was about slime mould and was fascinating at times. Then we watched the old film which, although dated, had some extremely tense moments.
Rocketman*** The Elton John biopic. I quite enjoyed the music.
The Wall. All4. Canadian noir. ** Almost abandoned but husband was watching. The entire thing is filmed either in semi darkness or against snow, both of which are presumably correct for the Canadian mining town setting, but the French Canadian accents were difficult and many of the subtitles were set against snow… Virtually all the cast spent their time in winter weather gear and it was often impossible to tell who was who. The plot, or what I gathered of it, was less than inspiring.
Better BBC iPlayer. I actually abandoned this even though husband was watching. The lead character is a female, ethnic minority, corrupt cop and the whole thing seemed so full of stereotypes and attempts to break some kind of wall that I just couldn’t watch.
My book is now published. Amazon were happy straight away. Smashwords had a problem converting to epub because there were hidden text boxes in the word document. Now sorted. I hope they don’t suddenly reappear in the Kindle version because Amazon don’t seem to give you the opportunity to reupload unless they’ve asked you to!
Well, I’ve uploaded it to Amazon and Smashwords, wrestled with possible blurbs (many many thanks to Rebecca Cohen) and agonised over categories, tags, etc. Apparently you’re not expected to have both mm and mf romances in the same story. Real life should clearly not intrude on fiction… I’ve hopefully given each site the correct versions. For example, Smashwords won’t have anything to do with docx whereas that’s Amazon’s preference even though till about a year ago they liked a web page. Their cover sizes differ, too. I’m never convinced they’ll use my correct pen name because of course I have to use my legal/banking name with them for tax purposes. I’m also usually terrified that they’ll shout at me because something has gone drastically wrong. The only time they ever did was when I forgot to tick the ISBN box, but you never know! I’ve chosen a price – at random really, because I can never decide what price things should be. It’s a question of a selling point rather than actual worth, after all. I suspect the Kindle version won’t have a live table of contents because I got stuck, for the first time, on creating one that looked reasonable. Smashwords do it for you provided you format the chapter headings a certain way. Now I’ll live with low level angst until both sites tell me the book is live – and then till Smashwords tell me whether they consider it worthy of distribution to various other platforms. I’ll let you know!
We’ve had less snow than most. I expected to see our tree like this but we’ve only had hard frosts and bitter cold.This pic was taken in a snowier year.
Books by authors I already knew.
The Narrow Door by Joanne Harris***** Brilliant writing. I love her unreliable narration – sometimes deliberate and other times unconscious on the part of the narrator. This novel had a lot in common with Gentlemen and Players, the first book in the Malbry series. It’s a psychological thriller that investigates a death that occurred half a century ago through the eyes of the sister of the deceased and one of her staff at St. Oswald’s. The suspicion builds and builds but we are never sure till the very end. Like Stephen King, Harris has a knack for drawing the reader into a strange but recognisable world and every chapter is like attending a master class in the art of writing.
Warning: Deep Water by AL Lester ***** A brilliant novella set just post WWII -probably perfect. Second Wind**** is also good. The title refers to a position in an orchestra. The Celtic Myths series **** was excellent. I had already read and enjoyed Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, so I borrowed the rest of these short stories from KU. (As the crows fly, Taking flight, Surfacing again, and Playing chicken.) They’re delightful romances with various LGBT+ combinations. The author has taken elements of myths and woven them into contemporary tales. The writing in these and the longer novellas is beautiful and the author is good at creating believable characters in fairly short pieces.
Claiming Rys by Annabelle Jacobs**** A well written and exciting beginning to a series about shifters, witches and fae living in and around Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire (somewhere I once visited frequently). I liked the characters and the careful explanations of skills, magic, etc. and I will be following the series.
Chainsaw Heart by Kiernan Kelly**** A sweet ff romance with just enough drama to keep it interesting all the way through. I’ve always liked Kiernan’s writing and this was no exception.
Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness**** A return to the world of the All Souls trilogy which I loved. This was equally gripping (it even invaded my dreams) but I didn’t feel as concerned about Phoebe and Marcus as I did about Diana and Matthew, and would have liked Diana and her family to have featured more in this volume. I also found the structure, with the book hopping between the eighteenth century and the present day slightly jarring at times. So although I love the ‘world’ the author has created, and her very complex vampire, witch and daemon characters, this volume doesn’t quite make the five star pantheon.
Melody of the Snow by Blake Allwood **** For once I dithered about awarding four stars to this author but the book was beautifully written and kept me engaged. It’s just that it had, for me, too little drama. Family and career decisions don’t really enthuse me the way crime or the paranormal do. However, as a romance, with a lot of detailed and interesting information about a number of things like the hotel/resort business, drag queens, and singing careers, I knew it should be recommended.
Driven Snow by Tara Lane*** I’m on the fence about this. Tara Lane is a good writer and I wanted to see what she did with a ‘twist’ to the story of Snow White, particularly because I did an mm version myself (Silkskin and the Forest People). It was clever and at times exciting but was at heart a college story which doesn’t appeal to me much. Recommended for those attracted to tales like that.
Books by authors new to me.
From the cradle by Mark Edwards and Louise Voss**** A really good exciting police procedural involving child snatching, with interesting characters and unexpected twists and turns. Well written with a lot of fascinating psychological insight into motives and reactions. I will be looking for the next in the DI Lennon series.
Spell it out by Andy Gallo **** Plenty of drama and romance in this short mm paranormal novel. I will probably get the sequel as I liked the main characters and the minor ones too. There was perhaps too much explicit sex for a short piece but it was at least counterbalanced by magic and angst.
Muted Chords by Samuel York*** A disappointing addition to the Rocktoberfest series. This was quite a sweet romance though it really seemed like lust rather than love at first sight and the author didn’t make me believe in a HEA. There was very little about the way the music industry works, and the drama that enlivened the plot was unlikely and poorly explained. Readable, but only just.
In Tune by Elle Keaton*** Another Rocktoberfest novel Again, less background information than I would have liked but the characters were interesting and the plot was pleasing.
The Running Girls by Matt Brolly*** I ended up mostly skimming this crime story set on the island of Galveston off the coast of Texas because there was a lot of repetition. The events, most of which took place during a hurricane, were quite exciting but I resented the way a totally new character was introduced quite late in the story and used as the explanation for everything.
New Edge Sword and Sorcery Issue #0 *** Some very gory stories and some interesting articles. This was an ARC I read and reviewed for Scott’s Liminal Fiction group and although I found the articles quite fascinating I might not have continued with the stories if I hadn’t felt obliged by my commitment to review.
Silent Scream by Angela Marsons *** Interesting plot and resolution. Some gratuitously unpleasant scenes. I think it would have been better to let the reader investigate alongside the police rather than showing flashback interludes from the pov of one of the criminals. Not terribly well written. I won’t be following the further exploits of DI Kim Stone.
Interviews with an ape by Felice Fallon** I was really disappointed in this. I requested it as a Christmas gift but had obviously misunderstood the blurb and reviews. To begin with, I knew I was getting a fictional account of interviews with a gorilla who learnt to sign. Fine – and interesting. But the interviews were, it turned out, interviews the gorilla managed to have with a pig, a foxhound, an orca and an elephant. Nobody ever said how he managed this. I’m sure the stories were based on true events but they didn’t ‘change my mind’ (as one reviewer suggested) – I, along with almost anyone who would read this in the first place, already deplore cruelty to other species. I know classics like Black Beauty, or more recently Babe, have changed attitudes but both were consistent within their fictional worlds. This wasn’t. This is Ms Fallon’s first novel and I won’t read any more by her.
And not for me:
The Congressman’s Whore by Nacht and Clancy. Abandoned. A kind of mm version of Pretty Woman with an added political agenda. Far too much very boring sex. I assume they got together at the end and didn’t want to follow the journey.
I have a new book coming out soon and I’m quite excited. It’s called The Seekers and is a stand-alone completely unconnected to any of my other stories.
It’s all edited and ready but I’ve been struggling with the table of contents which a friend assures me is not obligatory and not really necessary with a novel. Smashwords do it for you, but Amazon expects its authors to be more competent… I usually manage tocs fine but this one keeps disintegrating.
Anyway, I’ve also been struggling with the blurb. The trouble is, the book has more than one romance thread and could appeal to both mm and mf readers. So I haven’t quite known how to pitch it! It grew out of characters initially developed for an online game.
Twin fairy princes and their sister are escaping from an abusive and manipulative father. They cross the ocean in search of a better life and head inland accompanied by a motley crew of companions picked up along the way. There’s a slow burn same sex romance, an m/f romance that strikes like lightning but is destined to last, and a choice for an ace character that will also impact the others. Much of the story involves jewels, mined and sold, which inspired the cover.
Our crocus are out, but may not survive the forecast cold snap.
Some friends have been discussing the way they have not renewed their TV licences because they never watch BBC, in real time or via streaming services, and I was surprised. I wouldn’t have missed most of these programmes for the world! I also watch a lot of news and political programmes but mostly not on BBC.
Things I would recommend from my February TV:
Happy Valley season 3 ***** (BBC iPlayer) Excellent cop/family drama set in West Yorkshire, starring Sarah Lancashire who is brilliant in the role of Catherine Cawood and ably backed up by a stellar cast. This was always intended to be the final season but people are already hoping for spin-offs.
Doc Martin Seasons 1-10***** (BBC iPlayer)We binged watched the entire series over January and February and enjoyed it enormously. Think Last of the Summer Wine crossed with The Detectorists, add a large helping of House and set in a facsimile of Brigadoon, but in Cornwall.
The Magic of Mushrooms **** (All4) Richard Fortey and Patrick Hickey explore fungi. I knew most of what they said, but it was good to have it all put together in one place!
The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse.**** (BBC iPlayer) Animated film for children and adults first shown at Christmas and still available for the rest of the year. Interesting, and beautifully made.
Inside Our Autistic Minds ****(BBC iPlayer) presented by Chris Packham. Very well done and interesting, especially to our family with our autistic grandchild. Packham (who is autistic himself) explores the experiences of four people with very different expressions of autism and helps them make films explaining themselves to their families and to the world at large.
The World’s Most Scenic River Journeys. ****(My5). We watched the programme about the Mosel which the presenter insisted on calling by its French name, the Moselle. We know that part of Germany well by road and it was lovely to see it from a different angle.
The Impressionists: Painting and Revolution.**** (BBC iPlayer) I had already seen some of the programmes but it was interesting to watch them again.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice**** (BBC iPlayer). A look at the singer’s life including interviews with her. Interesting, and obviously full of lovely music. I hadn’t realised that she also flirted successfully with operetta.
Secrets of the Jurassic Dinosaurs**** (BBC iPlayer) The presenter followed palaeontologists recovering dinosaur fossils from a ‘dig’ where a lot of them died. It really brought home to me how far the Jurassic period was removed in time from the later dinosaurs such as T Rex.
And one I could do without…
The Wall (Canadian Noir on All4) Husband is still enjoying this but I’ve given up. The subtitles are frequently shown against snow and the Canadian French is not always clear to the foreign ear. The whole setting is stark with blinding snow and gloomy interiors and whilst I know that’s probably realistic I wasn’t enjoying it. Added to that I found I didn’t care much about the police, the victims or the other characters.
We had two delightful whippets to stay for New Year while their people were away.
I didn’t watch much this month – or rather I did, but mostly ongoing things that I’ll review at a later date.
Detectorists Christmas Special***** Delightful long episode of the very British ‘comedy’ show. It has plenty of gentle humour but is not played totally for laughs. BBC iPlayer
Frozen Planet II: Worlds of Wonder**** Nice eye candy, as all nature programmes tend to be. BBC iPlayer
I did, however, do a lot of reading!
The highly recommended:
Changing his tune by Blake Allwood**** Another in the Rocktoberfest series. This one has a pop star wanting to switch to rock or at least more ‘adult’ music, and his affair with one of the technical crew. Lovely plot with thriller twists, nice romance, and I am still totally hooked on these music stories.
Loving Daniel by Ruby Moone**** Great story in the MC Securities series. The romance is good and the thriller elements are suitably thrilling. The characters are great and it was lovely to meet some of the people from the previous books. The main setting is Manchester which is where I live so the story comes alive for me in a personal way. These books would probably get a five star top rating if the proof reading was better. There are far too many typos – and they are typos, not author errors. Examples: ‘there we’re’ instead of ‘they were’ and a whole sentence in punctuation marks instead of just the dialogue bit. We can all make or rather not notice mistakes like that but they come thick and fast in these books which is a pity. If they weren’t otherwise so good it would throw me out of the story.
The Love and the Anger by Rebecca Cohen**** As usual, a lovely addition to the Crofton Hall series. Lots of fascinating details and an exciting plot.
The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams**** This is a kind of bridge between Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and the next series. It is almost wholly concerned with a battle and siege and I only really continued with it because I need to know about the events in it before continuing. I love Williams’ writing, and I must say I was engrossed, which is not usual for me when military matters are concerned. However, the author made the whole thing fascinating by recounting the opposing points of view and it will be interesting to see what happens to both sides in the new series, the first of which I have ready to read. All the books are set in a fantasy world.
The Case of the Undiscovered Corpse by Charlie Cochrane*** I think this might be the first time I haven’t given one of this author’s books four stars. The plot was interesting and the mingling of the Cambridge fellows with the actor pair was clever, but there were altogether too many detectives. I lost count when various colleagues and staff started joining in. And then there was the multiplicity of possible suspects. My head was spinning. Readable, for the nice character portraits and the murder mystery, but needless to say, totally incomprehensible for anyone not familiar with the earlier books in either series.
The Witness of the Sun by Suki Fleet*** This was an ARC copy for review so there’s a more detailed review on Scott’s site. It was high fantasy with a YA vibe though with some explicit sex scenes that moved it into a adult category. Not really my ‘scene’ but might appeal to some readers and the writing is good.
A Body in his Bed by Sue Brown*** Nice enough addition to the series about the fledgling detective agency, with the most lucrative client of Skander and Owen arrested for murder. Because the guys are now civilians rather than cops there is less detailed detecting, and a lot of family interest and drama, which is pleasant but needs a thorough knowledge of both this and the general island series to appreciate fully.
The Family We’re Born With by Kaje Harper*** Quite a good Christmas story with various lost family members coming together plus some mm romance. I think there’s a sequel but I didn’t get into the characters sufficiently to care though I’ll read it if I come across it because I always enjoy Kaje’s writing.
The Prince and his bedeviled bodyguard by Charlie Cochet*** Pleasing story in YA fairytale style with a quest and a moral.
1979 by Val McDermid *** I usually like this author and the way they weave LGBT+ issues into their thrillers. The writing was as good as usual but I found the switch to investigative journalism not really to my taste and quickly got bored by the newspaper reporter lifestyle. I have the second book in the series and might read it if I run out of books…
Rainbow Advent Calendar – varied. I am not listing all the stories and can’t really give the calendar itself any meaningful star rating. I enjoyed it but had difficulty keeping up with the amount of reading, and then discovered a couple of forgotten files with even some of last year’s Christmas stories kept for this year but still unread. I think next Christmas I will opt out of the entire ‘read a story a day’ thing till I’ve caught up with myself. Though I’ve already had an idea for my own contribution… Many of the stories will still be available on authors’ websites etc. My own is. Check out the FB group for details.
Not for me:
Mage Bond by Eden Winters. Abandoned. I could see quite quickly that there was too much high fantasy plus pirates for my tastes. I love fantasy, but not all types of fantasy.
Authors new to me
The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh by Chiang Yee ***** A Christmas present I was really pleased with as this series has been out of print for some time and has only just reappeared. It’s a fascinating account of a stay in Edinburgh by an academic and artist from China, working in UK during the second world war and cut off from his family. We see Edinburgh through the fresh eyes of a foreign traveller and we also learn about similarities and differences in Chinese and Western culture. I think perhaps the fact that the book was written (and illustrated by the author) during wartime adds to the new perspectives. I understand there are similar books about Yee’s experiences in the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, both of which are familiar ground for me. I shall be looking out for them.
Two Tribes by Fearne Hill**** A thoughtful and well written novel about two very disparate characters falling in love as schoolboys then finding each other again in middle age. The first half was reminiscent of Heartstopper (Netflix) then the tragedy that separated the pair came as a complete shock and added immeasurably to the structure of the story and the explanation for so many aspects of the lives of both men.
Alia Terra (Stories from the Dragon Realm) by Ava Kelly and illustrated by Matthew Spencer**** An interesting and beautifully illustrated set of Romanian fairy stories, suitable for primary age kids. (I did a slightly longer review for Scott.) The adventures end with people and dragons accepting their lives and their differences rather than with princes and princesses getting married and living happily ever after. As such, a refreshing alternative to the usual Disney take on fairy tales so often marketed to today’s children.
A Bridge to a Troll’s Heart by Lee Colgin*** Quite sweet mm fairy tale based on Three Billy Goats Gruff. Suitable for YA audience but not very memorable for me.
Three Stupid Weddings by Ann Gallagher*** Pleasant enough mm (but ace) romance. Once the characters and situation were introduced my brain could immediately tell me the rest of the story… Dom agrees to be Vic’s fake boyfriend for three family weddings. I bet most of you could figure out what happens. The only marginally interesting bit was Vic’s eating disorder, triggered by his controlling ex.
Last Fight of the Old Hound by Nils Odlund** Some great worldbuilding in this shifter story set in an alternate universe, but I couldn’t even work out whether it was going to involve mf romance or not. Then it ended on a cliff-hanger. I don’t mind knowing there’s more story to come, but cliff-hangers are an absolute no-no for me as endings unless the book is initially advertised as e.g. a trilogy like Lord of the Rings.
Southern Bound by Stuart Jaffe** A paranormal detective story. Hmm. Stereotyped characters, confusing investigation, no underlying explanation of paranormal phenomena. There’s to be a series. It will have to go on its way without me as a reader.
Whisky from Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrick ** I did actually plough through this police procedural set in Scotland on the west coast. The series (because of course there’s a series) is set in a fictional town which has unaccountably been given the name of a real town, some way off. (Cue much use of Google Maps until I read an interview with the author.) The writer is ex-police and the procedural part is no doubt accurate but not very interesting. There is a lot of head hopping which is irritating. There is also a fair amount of slightly shaky vocabulary. I wish most retired police would stick to some kind of police consultancy and leave writing to writers. The end was reasonably exciting once you got round the head hopping, but then the very final page had a twist that was presumably meant to entice the reader to buy the next book but left me wondering why I’d bothered with that one.
This Much is True by Miriam Margolyes** I like her acting and her contributions to TV discussion and so on. I didn’t enjoy this. It seemed very self-absorbed (though I don’t think she necessarily is) and came across as just a list of all the people she’d acted and interacted with over the years. Unless you knew the people concerned (and mostly, I didn’t) this quickly became very boring indeed. There were a few nuggets of gem-like quality but not enough to justify a whole autobiography.
Not for me:
The Goblin Twins by Kit Barrie. Abandoned. It started with reams of information about goblin languages (actually, these were dialects, not languages) – information that was not really informative. For example, despite what the author would have us believe, neither of the ‘a’ letters in ‘adorable’ is long, and long ‘a’ usually sounds ‘ay’ whereas ‘aa’ is normally used for ‘ah’. Having waded through this strange form of linguistic usage I found the next section concerned elf languages and I nearly gave up at that point. Then, when the story started, there were, indeed, goblin twins, royal ones at that, though why everybody had to be described as a goblin man or a goblin woman rather than referring to their gender in other ways was beyond me. Anyway, the twins seemed to inhabit a world of clichés and tropes and I couldn’t be bothered.
Meru by S V Divya. Abandoned. Sci fi by a scientist. The amount of world building involving scientific terminology, some of it quite abstruse, was overwhelming.
First Impressions by Jay Hogan. Abandoned. It started with a lot of sex and thoughts about sex between characters the reader did not yet know or care about. I persevered but the basic plot seemed to be very predictable. Two guys meet – lust plus hate at first sight – then they are thrown together. I might be wrong but Aukland Meds (this is book 1) probably isn’t for me, though I was initially attracted by the NZ location.
Right as Raine by Lucy Lennox. Abandoned. Dietician appointed as personal chef to footballer. Again, once I knew the characters and situation I couldn’t be bothered to read on.
The Botanist by M W Craven. Abandoned. Billed as a gripping thriller. It wasn’t. I got tired of the frequent switches to new sets of characters and the amount of so-called humour.
Daughter’s dog unwraps his new dinosaur in our lounge.
TV and books for December. I’ve put them all into one post for New Year’s Eve.
Castle Howard : Through the Seasons. ***** (All4) 4 episodes. A no brainer because I worked there every sixth form and uni holiday as a tour guide, and one of the Howard boys was in my mother’s class when she taught in a private school for a while. (Not sure if it was the current owner.) A nostalgia trip and it was interesting to see how the current owner is altering the way the estate works.
Jews Don’t Count (David Baddiel)*****(All4) Based on the book with the same title by the presenter. (I added it to my KU wishlist). Thoughtful discussion of why and how Jews in modern UK and US have an uphill struggle against antisemitism. I have now read the book and will review it too (see below). Sadly, it didn’t live up to the programme.
Death in Paradise Christmas Special **** Despite the fact that the plot was less complex than usual, I enjoyed the Christmas ghost story vibe of this long episode.
The History of Now (BBC iPlayer) Simon Schama *** The very long introductions to the three episodes confused me since they were all the same. I think I’ve watched all three, possibly in the wrong order. There were some interesting moments but I’m not sure I learnt or retained a great deal.
Planet Sex with Cara Delavigne(BBC iPlayer) *** I’ve watched about half of the series and keep meaning to return to the rest but the fact that I haven’t probably says a lot.
Prince Andrew: The Musical*** Half watched while multi-tasking. Quite good but not really memorable music, and as the Guardian review said, it almost sanitised some really nasty stuff.
I have read a lot of short stories, some from ‘advent calendars’ and others in magazines such as New Statesman (Alan Garner) and New Scientist. After a while, Christmas offerings seem to blur and I haven’t listed them all here. I enjoyed them, and offer thanks to all the authors who gave their work to readers, but you’d get bored with a rundown on ‘pleasant Christmas story’ repeated with some alternative ways of saying it, over and over again.
Death in Heels by Kitty Murphy***** Fab – murder, drag, mm and mf romance, found and real families and their drama, Dublin setting. This was an Amazon First Read (Prime subscribers get a free or discounted book every month) so was in among a number of other mainstream books. I’m so glad I chose it and I was pleased to see the issues it raised in a mainstream setting. Will definitely look for the sequels.
bad data by georgina sturge***** Amazing detailed look at the data that underpin government (by all parties) by a statistician at the House of Commons Library. This was a Christmas present (my family know me…) and I devoured it straight away.
Also excellent: If you’re only going to buy one, go for the charity anthology which has lots of stories which range from good to remarkable and is in a good cause!
Consider Pegasus (Si Clarke)**** A very enjoyable sequel to The Left Hand of Dog, and Judgement Dave. I had an ARC copy to read and review for J Scott Coatsworth’s Liminal Fiction FB group and left a much more detailed review there (14th December). In the footsteps of ‘greats’ like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, Si Clarke uses apparently light hearted sci fi to explore serious social issues. This one is centred on the question of whether a unicorn or a pegasus should be allowed to exist.
Kind Hearts at Christmas ed. Liam Livings**** It isn’t often an anthology gets four stars from me. Christmas romance (mm) stories collected by the editor and sold in aid of HIV and AIDs charities. Some of the authors were new to me and others were familiar. I think this is possibly the first anthology I’ve read where every story is at least readable, and some are brilliant. If I had to choose a favourite it would be Clare London’s Santa Number Five with its clever echoes of Hot Fuzz and its air of mystery until quite late in the story. But I was also totally intrigued by Jack Pyke’s paranormal world(s) in Holly and the Heathen and would like to know more.
The Best Gift by Eli Easton**** I thought/feared this was going to be another ‘just a romance’. However, there was enough excitement to add a star to a well written story set in a Christmas ‘wonderland’ with gifts and trees.
The Christmas Leap by Keira Andrews. **** Pleasing friends to lovers story with a few dramatic moments to raise it above the general over-sweetness of the season. Michael and Will have been best friends for years, until Michael ‘ghosts’ his friend. Then Will needs to rescue Michael and they both realise what they’ve been missing.
The Christmas Throwaway by RJ Scott**** A cop rescues a young man thrown out by his family for being gay. Nice story with extra interest in the form of cartoon style illustrations added for this special edition.
The Santa Problem by Barbara Elsborg**** Lovely Christmas story with magic and reindeer. I would actually have liked a little more about the magic but enjoyed it enormously anyway.
Christmas in January by Charlie Cochrane**** It was great to see Dan and Steve again after their first book, Don’t Kiss the Vicar. I enjoyed catching up with them, and with their problems. I hope the author will continue to let us know how things are going.
Some other books worth considering:
Life is Right Here by Sophia Soames*** Lost a star because despite a HEA (or maybe HFN) ending, I was constantly distressed by the illness of one of the characters I’d loved in the first book so didn’t enjoy the read. I wished, almost to the end, that I hadn’t read it in the run up to Christmas because I was getting so upset. Yes, it warned for triggers, but I didn’t expect that to be such a huge part of the plot. Very well written and the two intertwined families are incredibly real. I suppose that’s why it upset me so much! Recommended but you have been warned!
The Emperor’s Aeronaut by Shelley Adina and RL Scott*** Fascinating world building – steampunk during the Napoleonic wars. I was less impressed by the characters and much preferred Adina’s series Magnificent Devices set in Victorian times (also steampunk). I’ve written a fuller review for Scott’s group.
A Badger’s Tale by Geoff Francis*** This was saved by the illustrations, gorgeous photographs by the late Eric Ashby. The story of Liam becoming a badger shifter, followed by the story of the badger clan, is interesting but I never managed to suspend disbelief. Then the whole thing just sort of petered out so I was left wanting more badgers, more about Liam as an adult, more photographs and more in general!
Don’t you want me by Liam Livings*** Technically well written mm office romance but for reasons I can’t work out, this author doesn’t make me care about the main characters. The same was true of their story in the Kind Hearts at Christmas anthology.
Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel*** Gained a star by being totally worthy. I loved the TV programme but found the book badly structured and hard to follow properly. Whilst Baddiel makes some very valid points about the way antisemitism is separated from other ‘isms’ and treated as less important, he seems to be almost rambling about things he has read or seen, which have (not surprisingly) offended him rather than formulating any kind of plan to deal with them either politically or in argument between friends etc. A large portion of the book concerned the current attempt to right past wrongs by using e.g. deaf actors to play deaf characters and actors of colour to play characters of colour but never any effort to cast actual Jews as Jewish characters. I came away confused as to his actual opinions on the issue as a whole. An interesting book but one that I suspect was only preaching to the converted and had little to offer in the way of putting things right.
The Cottage in the Highlands by Julie Shackman*** I enjoyed this slow burn mf romance set in Glasgow and surrounds (not exactly the Highlands but still…). The story was quite convoluted, involving a couple of investigations (Leonie is a journalist) but the book lost a star for two reasons. One was the rather clumsy punctuation of dialogue, and the other was the epilogue which was really the end of the main story rather than a ‘later’ addition, and was very rushed.
No fanfiction this month other than Small_Hobbit’s Christmas Hamlet which was as amusing as usual, but tbh only got read at all because the chapters kept landing in my inbox. https://archiveofourown.org/works/43358580
I have not managed to read all the free stories I’ve been offered this month. I must do better and maybe at least get to the end of the Christmas themed ones in January. As for my tbr pile, I leave it to your imagination!!