January Reviews 2018

I’m not sure what happened but it seems to be February already so here are my reviews for last month.

    TV and films

New Year Concert from Vienna ****
This is something to watch every New Year morning – always worthwhile though the programme varies quite a lot. There is an orchestra, obviously, plus ‘tours’ of various interesting buildings in Vienna, and ballet in other locations. The ballet, this year, wasn’t quite as exciting as it sometimes is but the entire concert was worth watching and listening to.

Secret Life of the Zoo*****
This has ended now. Baby tapirs are glorious – just saying!!

Spiral*****
The French cop show I adore. Only two more episodes to go then I’ll have to try to be patient till next year.

Game of Thrones season 6*****
I have season 7 so I won’t suffer from withdrawal symptoms. I’m up to date on the books but there are beginning to be events that have not been in the text version yet.

    Books

First, the very very good.

Jury of One by Charlie Cochrane *****
Second in the Lindenshaw Mysteries series. Adam is a teacher and his partner Robin is a cop. The crime that was the focus of this story involved Adam because of a stint of jury service he’d done quite a long time ago. I love the way this author builds a perfect world in a fictitious group of villages and small towns, and I love the deepening relationship between the main characters. Most of all, I love the dog. The mystery is nicely complex, and the writing seems effortless, usually a sign that a very great deal of effort has in fact gone into it! Highly recommended.

Lessons for Suspicious Minds by Charlie Cochrane *****
This is the eighth in the Cambridge Fellows series. The sense of the period is exquisitely developed, always with a light hand but amazing attention to detail. In this story Orlando and Jonty are asked to investigate a suspicious death that occurred at a house party in a stately home. And yes, you might have guessed I would thoroughly recommend Ms Cochrane’s books to anyone who likes very gentle mm romance with a heavy helping of crime and mystery. Highly recommended.

Christmas Collection by RJ Scott *****
The three stories in this collection are pure fluff for Christmas. but extremely well written, delicious fluff. We have a novella, a long short story and a very brief short story, all with very different characters whose mm romances come to fruition at the Christmas season. I thoroughly enjoyed these and will almost certainly re-read them at the same time next year. Highly recommended.

Divorce can be Deadly by Emma Jameson *****
Another crime story in a period setting (early WW2) and in this particular case another murder in a stately home. Quite a contrast to Charlie Cochrane’s books because the romance, while equally gentle, is male/female. However, the research is less accurate and the occasional American speech patterns or lack of understanding of British society are slightly irritating. This is the second in the series (Dr Benjamin Bones) and yes, I will buying the next despite my criticisms. The main characters are delightful and the mysteries, so far, are absorbing. Recommended.

The merely good.

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff ****
I read an e-book version. It was fascinating, not so much because of any new information about Trump but because it clarified, for me, the roles of some of the White House team, and helped me attach names to the correct roles, too. Very often, American politics makes very little sense to a Brit reader because the job titles are so unfamiliar and of course we don’t usually know much about the people, either. The book was an ‘easy’ read and was not worth spending a great deal of time or money on, but overall I’m glad I read it. Some of the specific analysis of Trump was already well known, and some had to be taken with a pinch of salt. I think the parts that dealt with Bannon and his ongoing role in the campaign and the first year were perhaps the most interesting, and certainly helped to make sense of his recent split with Trump. If you’re interested in US politics, read it!

The Globe (Science of Discworld 2)/Pratchett, Cohen and Stewart****
I expected this to be as good as the first of the Science of Discworld series and was slightly disappointed. The main focus was on the development of language and culture. The interwoven Discworld story was as amusing as ever, but I think I prefer Cohen and Stewart when they are dealing with the ‘hard’ sciences.

The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block (Fairy Tales Retold) ****
Someone recommended this author knowing I also write fairy tales retold so I thought I’d see what their work entailed. The tales are the standard well known ones such as Cinderella, Snow White, etc. Some of them are given a modern setting, others are given some kind of twist. I thought the ideas were good and the writing style was good too, but somehow I never engaged with the characters. Others might, and I have no real criticisms to offer. It’s probably just a matter of my personal taste.

Call To Arms by various authors (series ed Julia Bozza)****
This is an anthology of mm stories set during WW2. A few were excellent, by some of my favourite mm writers such as Charlie Cochrane and Elin Gregory. Others were mediocre. None were poor.

The mediocre.

Salvage Trouble: Mission 1 by JS Morin ***
The blurb suggests that anyone who misses Firefly would enjoy this book. The plot, with the spaceship full of misfits who are carrying out a variety of semi-illegal missions, certainly echoes the show, and so does the use of some quirky humour. However, I didn’t completely fall for any of the characters and although this is book 1 of a series, I don’t think I’ll bother with the rest.

John Betjeman: The Illustrated Poems (illustrated by David Gentleman)***
Disappointing. I got this at a charity shop and was excited about my ‘find’. My last memory of my father, just before he died, was of a train journey during which we shared a copy of Betjeman’s Poems in a Church Porch. The train was taking me to boarding school and when I came home for my father’s funeral I found another clergyman had thrown away the slim book, telling my mother she wouldn’t want ‘that kind of rubbish’. At the time I was devastated but later forgot all about it until I saw this book. My tastes must have changed a lot, because I found most of the poems were a kind of high class doggerel. The forced rhyme schemes reminded me of some of Abba’s songs and whilst this is marginally acceptable for pop music it is somehow cringe-worthy in poetry by a writer who has a good reputation. The ideas were good; it was the execution that was lacking. I also recall arguing with my father about the works of Dylan Thomas and I still love those, so perhaps my tastes haven’t changed altogether; I probably remembered Betjeman with rose tinted spectacles because of the context in which I read the poems.

The bad.

Death at the Café by Alison Golden **
This was the first in a series and I won’t be reading any more. The heroine who solves the mystery is a young CoE clergyman. There is a gushing review by a real clergyman but I strongly suspect the review is fake. I was irritated by typos and Americanisms ( the story is set in London) and by the lack of research into the way in which the Church of England functions. As someone brought up in a vicarage and a CoE boarding school I know enough to find the errors in this writer’s work seriously annoying.

Killer Climate by Alannah Foley **
Another ‘first in series’. I will definitely be avoiding this one, too! An Australian surfer comes to UK to be in a TV show, all shot on location, and finds crimes at the sites. Very repetitive style, clumsy plotting and a lack of research about UK.

Sink by Perrin Briar **
I got to the end but I had to grit my teeth. Two guys in the Australian outback fall down a sinkhole and find an underground civilisation. The unlikeliness of almost all the plot was stunning. The characters were completely unattractive. The writing was flat and dull. I will not be following the sequels.

And the ugly/dire.

Book of Earth (Bradamante Saga #1) by Robin Brande. Abandoned.
A young woman is taught warrior skills in visions of herself as an adult. Nothing happens in real time and the ‘heroine’ didn’t interest me. This was another book from the Women in Fantasy ‘Bundle’ that I bought and am regretting. I suspect the editor who chose the books for the bundle does not share my tastes but has also not heard of things like info-dump as signs of poor writing.

Raining Men and Corpses by Anne R Tan. Abandoned.
This is classed as a ‘cosy mystery’. The heroine is a Chinese American graduate student and is neither appealing nor interesting. After a couple of chapters I just gave up. I didn’t even get as far as the mystery though I knew from the blurb who was going to die.

    Fanfiction

No recommendations this month. I have been reading odds and ends – ficlets and drabbles – nice but not very accessible unless you are already familiar with the fandoms.

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