Reading and watching March 2012

I shall start giving stars to the books I’ve read and the films I’ve seen.

***** a wholehearted recommendation, within any given genre

**** a recommendation with slight reservations

*** OK but unmemorable

** poor but with some redeeming features

* dire

March Reading

4Mar E A Discovery of Witches ***** – Deborah Harkness. A vampire romance. Not my usual choice of light reading but I really loved it. If I’d read any of the reviews on Amazon first – good or bad – I wouldn’t have bought it and can’t quite believe how different people, even some who liked it, have misread the book. It’s a vampire romance, yes, but it’s also a book about academics, about research and, as the author says, about books. It’s set initially in Oxford University. It is apparently the first in a trilogy and I shall be buying the others.

8Mar E Rent Boy Murders * – John Simpson and Robert Cummings. I gave up at p51. The writing was flat and boring. There were plot holes. We already knew who the murderer was and I wasn’t going to spend another 200 pages finding out how the very dull cops caught him. There was gratuitous sex – the cops were both gay and had both recently married but surely we didn’t need blow-by-blow accounts of their sex lives? This book was a waste of time.

10Mar E Clouds and Rain**** – Zahra Owens. This was an m/m romance set on a ranch. The plot (ranch owner falls in love with stable hand) could have been trite but the writer made me really care about the characters and their problems. It wasn’t the best writing in the world but the story left me satisfied. There was a lot of explicit sex but every sex scene was essential to the narrative. A worthwhile read. It’s a companion volume to Earth and Sky, by the same author, telling the story of two of the minor characters. That’s a worthwhile read, too.

12Mar E Let’s Get Digital***** – David Gaughran. An excellent handbook on the whys and hows of self publishing. Has lots of resources and links, too. I read it on my Kindle, in hospital, but have it on my laptop to refer to – probably again and again. He’s on WordPress – go and look for him!

13Mar E Nanny Dearest* – Shawn Bailey. Trash. An m/m romance that simple didn’t work. I didn’t believe in the characters or the plot or even the baby around whom the plot revolved. Poor style, poor writing, poor editing, a waste of space. And this was professionally published so if anything it’s a further push towards self-publishing.

14Mar E Chicken Little*** – Cory Doctorow. A sci-fi novella with some excellent ideas but I found the ending disappointing. I wanted something more – an epilogue? Good writing but the plotting was just slightly too experimental for me. This is the book I bought when my writing was compared to Doctorow’s on the ‘I write like’ site.

16Mar E Last of the Lesser Kings**** – T.L.K.Arkenberg. Fantasy, with an underlying thread of m/m romance and a hefty dose of philosophy about the uses of power. Intriguing but rather erratic – periods of excitement (magic, war, sex) followed by stretches of boredom and too much thought. However, I couldn’t stop reading!

19Mar E Shot of Tequila** – J.A.Konrath. I hated this. Dark, brutal and full of impossible fights and deaths wrapped up in a skimpy plot. I read it, or rather, mostly skimmed it because it was listed on Konrath’s website as the first (chronologically) in the Jack Daniels stories and I’d liked Whiskey Sour. Now I’m not sure whether to try any more.

19Mar E Microsoft Research DRM Talk**** – Cory Doctorow. A short e-book version of an interesting talk by the author explaining the destructive aspects of DRM to Microsoft staff. I’ve been helping prepare some papers arguing for DMCA exemptions, which of course centre round DRM, so the information in this talk was timely and fascinating. The only thing I’ve done is proofreading but it still helps to know a lot of the background. (For anyone who isn’t sure, DRM is Digital Rights Management, the technology that ‘locks’ DVDs, CDs and e-books.)

21Mar E Finding Lisa*** – Carolyn LeVine Topol. A well written but fairly bland book about a woman going through a divorce who finds herself again as a lesbian. Pleasant, and a nice antidote to too much horror and technical stuff. Totally unmemorable but just what I needed at the time I read it.

24Mar E Dawn in the Orchard*** – Cooper West. I’ve been following West’s blog because of her interest in fanfic so decided to try one of her novels. It was a pleasant enough m/m romance, tecnically well written but badly edited. The plot got a bit repetitive and then the ending was rushed. I seem to be getting very critical…

29 Mar P Wonderful Life***** – Stephen Jay Gould. Subtitle: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. Totally absorbing book about paleontology, the revision of early assumptions about the Burgess Shale, and the implications for our history as a species. Gould is a fantastic science writer, making things crystal clear to the interested layman but never compromising the integrity of his thesis. To summarise, the fossils found in the Burgess Shale in Canada suggest contingency rather than any purpose in evolution and add interesting philosophical ideas to Darwin’s central theory. If you like science and history, read this book! But be warned – it took me about a month to get through it!

30 Mar E Bullied**** – Jeff Erno. An interesting, distressing, inspiring book about the bullying of gay teens in America. It takes the form of a number of short stories, each dealing with different teen experiences. Most of the stories, even one that ended in suicide, gave some kind of foundation for hope. I did have a slight problem with it: I found the stories and the characters quite hard to relate to – American teen culture looks remarkably like a very foreign and almost impenetrable country from here and I even had to spend a lot of time getting to grips with the basics of the school system. This was a very worthy book, but also a rather insular one; I think its value would be greater to Americans than to anyone else, and particularly to American teens of any orientation. Read purely as a sociological document in ficional format it gives telling insights into American culture in general in respect of a variety of issues that are quite differently handled elsewhere. Whilst I am not for one moment suggesting that bullying does not take place in UK (I’m an ex-teacher, after all), it would be enlightening to read a UK book on the same subject.

March Viewing

2Mar Cowboys and Aliens.*** Westerns in general meet ‘Alien’ (plus ‘Indiana Jones’) with help from Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. It started well – good concept – but degenerated into trash. Well acted.

5 Mar. Whitechapel.***** (Season 3.)Modern police drama in which the crimes echo Victorian murders. Some preposterous plotting but excellent photography/direction; Rupert Penry-Jones and Phil Davis are a joy to watch. I enjoyed the first two seasons as well and will now look forward to the next.

15Mar The Social Network.**** The story of Facebook, told through flashbacks during the lawsuits that followed its beginnings. The lawsuits were absolutely fascinating. I always knew I didn’t like Facebook… Informative and well done.

19Mar Dirk Gently**** – Season 1. A kind of dark comedy detective series that grows on you. It’s based on characters by the writer Douglas Adams.

20Mar Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.**** I preferred the Alex Guiness version (which I’ve seen twice), and I think I preferred the book (which I’ve read twice) to either. However, I did think Gary Oldman made a better Smiley. This was a mesmerisingly beautiful film but the astounding camera and direction techniques overwhelmed the plot and characterisation. It was full of mega-actors who were given no opportunity to develop the roles they were given. Explanations were missing, truncated or couched in elliptical dialogue. If I hadn’t already known the basic story I think I would have been completely confused. As it is, I still think I only grasped 75% of it and had to discuss the older versions to sort my head out. Worth watching for the visual aspect alone.

25Mar Being Human*****– Season 4. A ghost, a vampire and a werewolf set up house together and try being human… By the end of this season only one of the original cast remained. The plots have got wilder but the acting and direction remain superb. I adore this series.

30Mar Spiral***** – Season 2. We watched season 3 and were so impressed I asked for the boxed set for my birthday. So we have now seen the first two seasons and are still impressed (and might have to watch season 3 again). French cop show (with subtitles) set in Paris where everyone is somehow crooked or incompetent or both – villains, cops, lawyers, etc – and every action is somehow connected with everything else. Superb. Quite violent and dramatic, with wonderful filming and great acting.

I do seem to have a leaning, in both reading and viewing, towards cops and quirky horror. Who knew? If anyone has read or seen any of these, I’d love to have your views!

2 thoughts on “Reading and watching March 2012

  1. Now and then I think about trying Stephen Jay Gould, and he’s always somehow pushed aside on the reading list by other things. Maybe someday I’ll manage at last. A month, you say? Sounds like my own month (or so) with Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”, taking much time, but worth of it.

    • Yes, it was worthwhile. I’m neither a biologist nor a paleontologist though I find both disciplines interesting. He is such a good writer that he makes the material accessible to the intelligent ‘layman’. But I had to read in short snatches, a chapter at a time, then take a break to digest what I’d learnt. I’m sad that he died – I think he was one of our greatest science writers and his sparkling reviews of other people’s work are both informative and interesting in their own right.

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