Since I’ll assume you’ve now all read my post about how I rate things I can include the abandoned!
March Films and TV
Spy in the Wild (BBC)*****
A highly enjoyable series which filmed animals using spy-cams – things like tree stumps, dung, etc. were all utilised, and some of the cams were sophisticated robot animals. The final programme showed how it was all done and I assume the cost goes towards future filming for other series. However, I’m watching Secret Life of the Zoo (BBC) *****, which is an ongoing series following animals and keepers at Chester Zoo. I got interested because it’s my nearest zoo, and it’s a lovely programme. Also, I think it has in fact taught me more about animal reactions to each other than Spy in the Wild did, despite the fact that that was the stated purpose of the spy idea, and the secret life is more of a ‘diary’.
Yuri on Ice Season 1***
So many people are so excited by this. The story is sweet and the animation is good, but I would be more likely to watch the same thing filmed with live actors. The skating sequences are very pretty but also very long and leave little room for plot progression. I won’t be watching season 2. The basic story is the growing relationship between a Japanese skater and his Russian coach who is an ex-skater. Nice, but not world shattering. I’ve read better storylines in the Ice Hockey Real Person Fiction fandom.
Lewis season 9 *****
The final season. I was away so much I had to rely on boxed sets and my family and friends gradually got them all for me. I have loved the entire series. I have two complaints about this last season. Firstly, the directors changed the introductory scenes and music, which had always been, for me, part of the charm. Then the storyline that paired Lewis with Laura Hobson never seemed to me to be believable; there was no on-screen chemistry between them. It isn’t just that I wanted a slash pairing. I was always happy (in Morse) with Lewis’ marriage, and in Lewis I was happy with the various pairings attributed to Hathaway. Lewis and Hobson? No. I think the writers wanted to round the series off with a romantic ending (why? viewers don’t demand that) and couldn’t find an alternative. However, I’ll still give it five stars, for the episodes, for the acting, for the locations, for the entire concept. Morse had spin-offs – Endeavour, as well as Lewis. I think Lewis could well generate another spin-off. Hathaway and Lizzie make a good team, with the extra dynamic of the new Chief Superintendent. Crossing my fingers for a series called Hathaway, though I believe Laurence Fox is less than keen!
Sense and Sensibility****
I’ve been wanting to watch this for ages and a friend kept saying they would lend it to me and then saying they couldn’t find it. So I finally bought it. It was good – good acting and true to the book. But there were aspects of the direction I found flawed. For instance, sound was lowered when the characters were further away. Now this might be realistic, but it doesn’t make for ease of following the dialogue for the viewer. Probably, in the cinema, it wouldn’t matter because cinema sound is always so loud. But my laptop was not able to compensate.
Dark Horse ***
A lovely true story about a winning racehorse bred by a village syndicate in Wales. However, the film was presented as a long documentary which didn’t quite work because the supposed ‘live’ clips inevitably didn’t always use the right people or animals, or used them but not at the right age. Also, the DVD was faulty towards the end.
2Cellos on YouTube*****
I keep telling myself I ought to actually buy the music these guys make. The trouble is, I like watching the videos too much and for most of the music, whilst they’re good, without the visuals they’re not playing pieces I would listen to frequently enough. So I go to the YouTube versions and follow them on Facebook. I assuage my conscience by thinking that YouTube hits add to their profits. My favourite – which I fell in love with even before I knew who they were – is their version of the Game of Thrones theme, played in Dubrovnik. The vids are stunning and the guys are such eye candy…
Not a lot this month – I’ve been concentrating on the news and related stuff online!
20 altogether and then 4 abandoned.
The excellent: 11 highly recommended (five star) this month (which might be a record).
Don’t Kiss The Vicar/Charlie Cochrane*****
Absolutely delightful m/m romance between a young vicar and a member of his congregation. There was a mystery involved, which was interesting and eventually satisfying. Although it was only a poison pen mystery, not a murder, the characters were engaging enough to make it quite gripping and I didn’t guess who the writer was till quite near the end. I would hope there might be more parish problems for this pair to solve. As a vicar’s child I was all too familiar with some of the problems faced by the vicar and his parish council. Highly recommended.
Down Under/Bill Bryson*****
I love Bryson’s wry humour and have read a lot of his work. This book takes us on a trip round Australia and as I had visited some of the locations he explores I felt really ‘at home’. He always so obviously loves the people and places he pokes gentle fun at. And of course there’s a wealth of factual information in there too. I was glad I had the paperback and not an e-book version because I kept referring to the maps. I know you can do that with e-books but it’s less satisfactory and you, or I, at any rate, risk losing the place… Highly recommended.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone/Laini Taylor*****
Wow!! One reviewer suggests an amalgam of Northern Lights and Pan’s Labyrinth. I would add Good Omens and Neverwhere to the mix. A fabulous fantasy that starts in Prague, deals with otherworld explanations for angels and devils, has heartbreaking romance and characters who twine themselves into the reader’s soul. Karou is both a modern girl, an art student, and not quite human. Akiva is both an angel and a soldier, a reluctant killer who thinks he has lost the great love of his life. The writer, in her notes, says she writes because she finds it unsatisfactory that life does not, for instance, contain dragons. Nor, so far, does Elsewhere, in this story. But there are two more volumes to come. I might have to wait till my birthday. So highly recommended it’s off the normal charts.
When Christmas Lights Are Blue/Harper Fox*****
It’s only a short novel but it manages to include homophobia, racism, honour killings, Lockerbie, the paranormal, the state of the NHS and even Brexit. A gripping m/m story set in rural Northumberland, with winter storms, ambulances and love. I like Harper Fox’s style and her characters are always so three dimensional – even the paranormal manifestations. Highly recommended – especially as a Christmas ghost story with a happy ending.
No Place To Hide/Glenn Greenwald *****
I watched the film at the time Snowden’s whistle blowing hit the headlines. Then recently, with all the focus on surveillance, I felt the need to remind myself of just what had happened. This is a fascinating account, much better than the film in many respects because it explores the motives of the press etc., as well as the protagonists, in more depth and recounts the experiences of Greenwald’s partner and other related stories. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the politics of surveillance.
Nowhere Ranch/Heidi Cullinan*****
Roe leaves a homophobic family and ends up with Travis on Nowhere Ranch. On the way we get a good look at BDSM (the good consensual kind that 50Shades hasn’t heard of), ranching, homophobia in various shades, education, unplanned pregnancies, and other assorted delights. I didn’t want the story to end! Heidi’s minor characters are always so well rounded that I feel as if she’s writing about my neighbours and when the book ends I’m sad they’ve moved away! I’m not always a BDSM fan but this was really well done, and not particularly explicit for readers who are not into that. Highly recommended.
The Last Runaway/Tracy Chevalier*****
I love Chevalier’s books because she takes a well known period of history and looks at it from a fresh and unexpected angle. (Mediaeval tapestries in The Lady and the Unicorn, Dutch art in Girl with a Pearl Earring, Dorset fossil hunting in Remarkable Creatures). In this story a Dorset Quaker goes to America in the mid nineteenth century with her sister who is going to marry another Dorset Quaker who emigrated in advance. The book chronicles Honor’s experiences both as an immigrant in Ohio and in relation to the Underground Railroad helping runaway slaves reach Canada. Chevalier explores the range of northern attitudes to southern slavery and the amount of help that even Quakers were prepared or not prepared to give. Honor’s life in Ohio was fascinating and cast a new light on already known facts about the escaped slaves. Beautiful writing, well developed characters and a great story. Highly recommended.
Eleventh Hour/Elin Gregory*****
Miles and Briers are spies in London in 1925, working to defeat an anarchist plot. Guns and cars and grenades. Undercover spying and observation. Homophobia. Sewers. Cross dressing. This is a brilliant and exciting m/m ‘thriller’ which should appeal to anyone who loves either the later Bond films or the Professionals series. I adored it and hope to see them at work again. Highly recommended.
This calls itself a novel of mystery. At the start, Ruth is searching for her brother Alex, who is missing, and looking back on her relationship with an abusive ex-lover, Matt. The search for Alex leads to unexpected places and events. The mystery deepens until we, like Ruth, are not sure what is real and what is not. The ending is almost satisfying and yet there is a twist right on the last page which leaves the reader shivering. I don’t usually like horror stories but this is not really explicit, just very, very dark in places. I was totally hooked and didn’t realise what was going on until Ruth did. So the writing was obviously structurally very assured as well as being technically good. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers.
This is an almost luminous book set in Minoan Crete. Kikeru has not quite decided whether to be male (and forced to marry) or female (forced to be castrated and then to be a priestess) then events intervene in the shape of Greeks who want to invade. The story deals with the way Kikeru defeats the invasion with friends and family to help, but even more so it deals with various shades of sexuality and desire. The legend of the Minotaur is nicely twisted to further the plot. The research is impeccable (as I have come to expect with this author) and the only ‘inventions’ for the sake of the story are those which researchers disagree about anyway. A gorgeous tale that will bear re-reading. Highly recommended, especially for those who love history and archaeology.
The Silent Scream/Karen Rose*****
I know I said I wasn’t going to buy any more of Rose’s books but I already had this and I’m glad. There was more than one villain, all coming from different perspectives and the mystery of motives and links was kept going right to the end. The use of deaf victims and witnesses and the problems of interviewing them was well handled and interesting. The romance was a bit OTT but was a nice tie-in to an earlier book. It follows another book which I had read, but apart from knowing a little more about one or two minor characters, the first book wasn’t essential pre-reading. Highly recommended for those who like romantic thrillers. And now I really am abandoning this author, partly because of the cost of even her e-books. No more, unless I see them in a charity shop.
And the rest, good: 10 books which were fairly good but which don’t come quite so highly recommended.
In the Spotlight/Charlie Cochrane****
This is two books, packaged together. All That Jazz is a longish novella that explores attitudes to cross dressing. If Music Be is a short story that has the protagonists taking part in a production of Twelfth Night and visiting their own prejudices in light of the play. The stories work well together because of their connection with the theatre. I just wanted more, in both. And the proof reading could have been better. Good, but not five star.
The State of Hate: Hope Not Hate report for 2016****
Political information presented in an easily digested form. Useful if you are interested in current Brit politics.
From Venice to Istanbul/Rick Stein****
Eastern Mediterranean cookery presented with perhaps too much emphasis on the author’s wanderings in the region rather than the people he got the recipes from. Some nice recipes to try and it made me go out and replace my empty bottle of pomegranate molasses.
Sheep’s Clothing/Elin Gregory****
A reluctant gay werewolf plumber moves to Wales. Amusing and romantic but far too short. It’s part of a series but there’s no indication of whether we are likely to meet this particular hero again so I’m reluctant to indulge.
The Complete Book of Spices/Jill Norman (1992)****
This was a re-read but last time I think I skimmed, looking for spices I already knew. This time I read about all of them and it was quite informative but didn’t, sadly, spend much time (or photography) on the really unusual ones. Also, over 20 years later, remarks about availability in shops can be rather quaint. Worth having for reference.
lab romance/Brad Tanner***
Well written romance between researchers. I didn’t end up caring about either of the ‘heroes’ but it should be a popular read.
Nicely done brief (too brief?) tale of a mistaken phone call that leads to possible m/m romance.
Twelfth Night/Clare London***
Another pleasant m/m/short story with one partner watching the other playing online games and waiting for them to return to reality.
Clare’s writing is good but I prefer longer stories in this genre. If you like short stories, these could be for you.
Murder Any Witch Way/N.M.Howell***
First in a series of urban fantasy crime stories. I found the heroines tiresome and the heroes were shaping up similarly so I won’t be following their adventures. Quite an amusing mystery plot and well written.
Formatting e-Books for Writers/Susan K. Stewart***
This didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know and personally, I think the free guides from Smashwords and Amazon are a better bet, but – if you are going to self publish and you aren’t sure which platforms to use, and you want to know things in advance of hiring ‘experts’ to help, this might be the book you need.
and bad: nothing, this month, between reasonably good and totally unappealing (to me). 4 books I abandoned:
Abandoned. I mentioned this last month and I tried again. But I’m not American and I just couldn’t grasp the basic premises of this to an extent that would let me enjoy the story.
Abandoned. Bad formatting made it impossible to read in comfort.
Red Mountain/Boo Walker.
Abandoned. The story of four very boring people in the wine growing region of California and how their lives intertwined. Nothing was happening and I didn’t much care whether it did or not.
Piercing the Veil/Nicole Taylor.
Abandoned. It started in some kind of fantasy world then moved to modern US. A woman here was possibly being followed by a man from there. No interesting characters appeared and whilst it was obvious our world and the fantasy one were going to intersect I found I didn’t care.
I’ve read quite a few short fics and drabbles but none worth separate mention. I’ve been concentrating on the articles in:
Transformative Works and Cultures Issue 23
This is an online zine which is a project of OTW (Organisation for Transformative Works). As you should know by now, I’m a staffer though my work is mostly connected with Archive Of Our Own, the fanwork archive which is another OTW project. The zine is a prestigious one full of peer reviewed articles on aspects of fandom and highly regarded by university departments specialising in e.g. media studies. This issue is completely given over to Sherlock and the various guises of Sherlock fandom. The articles were totally fascinating. Highly recommended for anyone even remotely interested in Sherlock, original, later or modern. You can read it at
and I’m uploading the gorgeous cover here.
Some of the short works I have been reading were also in the Sherlock fandom and I have to recommend the writings of Small_Hobbit. You can find her work on AO3 listed on her dashboard at http://archiveofourown.org/users/Small_Hobbit/pseuds/Small_Hobbit and dip in almost anywhere. Some of her offerings are newspaper items or diary entries couched in the style of the original Holmes stories and the newspapers they appeared in. Some are pure fantasy, with Mouselet, a mouse who lives in the wainscot at Baker Street and is in love with Inspector Hopkins. Or avatars of Holmes and Watson in the animal world. Quirky, well researched, and absorbing. Enjoy!
I thought that while I was talking about AO3 with no specific recommendations from March, I would recommend two of my favourite stories. Both are ‘gen’ in the sense that they contain no romance of any kind or any hints of romantic or sexual relationships. Contrary to ‘popular’ or perhaps media belief, fanfiction is not all sex driven.
The first is Sharpe’s Dragon by DisaLanglois. This is a crossover between the world of Sharpe (Bernard Cornwell) and the world of Temeraire (Naomi Novik). It’s an exciting story of an alternate Napoleonic war, with dragons, of course. Long and satisfying. I’m sure Naomi, who was one of the founders of OTW, would approve. Here’s the link to Part 1 (45,451 words) http://archiveofourown.org/works/129908/chapters/184803
and then Part 2 (34,794 words) is at http://archiveofourown.org/works/136503/chapters/195615
Bear in mind it’s novel length.
The second (touching on the mouse theme again) is The Honour and Glory of a Mouse by Transposable_Element at http://archiveofourown.org/works/4599858
This is very short (only 731 words) but quite lovely. The focus is on aspects of feminism, something that is sometimes covered in Narnia, where the story is set, but this tale takes the idea a step further. When I first read it the author was hidden behind anonymity because the story was for a challenge. Challenges, where the authorship is not revealed till the challenge is finished, can be one of the excitements of following fanfiction.
I hope there’s something for everyone there! I’ve now caught up with myself across all my social media platforms so from now on, there will be one review post per month.