August Reviews

I’m aware that we’re half way through September. I had this post ready then went on holiday with my new smartphone and NONE of my passwords…

Films and TV

Skyfall*****
This is my favourite of the Bond films. I have to confess that it was on TV so late this time that I went to bed before it finished, but then I know it well and this was a re-watch so I felt able to miss the end.

The Lady in the Van****
Based on an Alan Bennett ‘memoir’ (which I had read a long time ago) about a homeless lady who moves her van into Alan’s drive. Maggie Smith is the brilliant actor in the leading role. However, I thought the concept was too slight to justify the length of the film.

Terminator Genisys**
I half watched this with a book open. I thought it was rubbish and badly acted.

Books

Recommendations:

Tramps and Thieves by Rhys Ford *****

This is the sequel to Murder and Mayhem. Dante and Rook are inadvertently involved in crazy murder scenarios again. Just as delightful as the first book.

Friends of the Dusk and All of a Winter’s Night by Phil Rickman *****
These are part of the Merrily Watkins series which I adore. Merrily is a C of E vicar who has been asked to take on the role of diocesan exorcist or deliverance minister in Herefordshire. The books have a nice blend of supernatural possibilities and straightforward crime detection. There is also the pleasure of following the lives of Merrily, her boyfriend and her daughter plus their friends in the village and the police force. These two novels were even darker than their predecessors, but the plots were gripping, the character development was fascinating, the locations were lovingly portrayed (I know the area well) and the research into English traditions and legends was, as usual, impeccable. If you think you’d like them, please start at the beginning of the series, since you need to read about the family and friends in the right sequence.

Junkyard Heart by Garrett Leigh (A Porthkennack novel) *****
Jas, a photographer, leaves London for his father’s home in Porthkennack and meets Kim, who is a carpenter/furniture designer and part time tattoo artist. The story is very loosely linked to House of Cards in the same series by this author. As usual for Porthkennack stories, a gripping plot with well developed characters.

Love at First Hate by J L Merrow (A Porthkennack novel) ****
This follows the same family members as Wake Up Call and One Under by the same author, but this time the main character is Bran Roscarrock and the story concerns his involvement with Sam, an academic who is helping to stage an exhibition about Edward the Black Prince, one of Bran’s heroes. I enjoyed the story, especially the way it added to the Porthkennack body of works, and it was well written, but for the first time, I haven’t felt able to give a Porthkennack book (or a J L Merrow book) five stars. This is because I wasn’t totally able to believe in the rapid changes in Bran’s character and attitudes. Still thoroughly worth reading if you’re interested in the Porthkennack novels.

Lessons for Sleeping Dogs by Charlie Cochrane (Cambridge Fellows Mysteries)**** Another ‘was it murder?’ mystery with a locked room too. Jonty’s sister helps solve the case but I don’t find her as interesting as his parents were. The plots of this, and the previous book, were at times difficult to follow so I’m giving it four stars for the pleasure of the company of the detectives but not five, because the mystery itself failed to enthrall.

The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer ****
I know I said I wouldn’t review my re-reads of the Regency romances, and I did read a couple more this month which I won’t list here. But this is one of her historical books, much weightier than the romances, only placed in their company (by the publisher) because it takes place in the same period and has a romance as the focus. The book follows Wellington’s Peninsula campaign after the siege of Badajoz until the army reaches France, and then finally takes in Waterloo. It’s based on accounts and diaries written at the time, and is quite heavy going in some respects, only really rescued by being told from the perspective of a young couple, Brigade Major Harry Smith and his Spanish wife Juana. This is a historical couple and their friends, who form the main group the story follows, are also all historical figures. My daughter abandoned the book, saying it was too much like a text book account of battles and marches. I had read it years ago and had forgotten how ‘dry’ it was. However, I enjoyed it for a different reason: the campaign followed, roughly, the route we have frequently taken across northern Spain, and I am familiar with all the places mentioned. That, for me, brought the history to life. I have to say that I think Heyer should have stuck to Regency romance. The style of her handling of ‘grander’ historical themes is not as appealing and for that matter her foray into twentieth century crime stories lacks the humour and social observation which make her romances so fascinating.

A Casual Weekend Thing by A J Thomas****
Christopher is a cop in San Diego. He learns of his brother’s suicide and travels to Montana to sort out the funeral. Doug, a local officer in Montana, gets involved with him and together they unravel a mystery which includes a local paedophile and a lot of danger for the two men. I enjoyed the book and found the plot gripping while I was reading, but afterwards kept thinking of minor plotholes.

Books I read but wouldn’t recommend highly. You, of course, might love them!

Hearts and Health 4-6 boxed set by D L Jamison ***
Room for Recovery, Surprise Delivery and Orderly Affair are three further books in the Hearts and Health series, very loosely connected with a hospital in the town of Ashe, and its staff. Although I enjoyed meeting the main characters from the earlier books as minor ones in these, I got tired of the amount of explicit sex. It seemed to be out of proportion to the plot development. The books are well written and if you enjoy modern m/m romance, and don’t get bored by extra sex scenes, you might enjoy them more than I did.

The Body in the Dales by J R Ellis ***
I was hopeful about this police procedural, set in the Yorkshire Dales where I used to live. The mystery was well done: a corpse is found in a pot hole and all the usual locked-room tropes are employed. However, I found the police team really boring, and will not be following the series.

Books I thought were poor or worse.

The Necessary Deaths by David Dawson **
A crime story that moves between Oxford and Brighton, with some amateur detection by a lawyer and his lover. I found them, and the other characters, quite boring, and the plot, centred on pharmaceutical research with a dose of homophobia, unlikely. I kept thinking some of the writing was American (for example UK motorways are never referred to as freeways) but then discovered the author is British.

Baby, It’s Cold by Josh Lanyon **
This novella was too short for any real character development and I forgot the plot almost as soon as I’d finished reading. I think Lanyon should stick to full length novels and perhaps to some element of mystery or crime.

High Lords of Phaerie by Brock E Deskins
I abandoned this as unreadable. I’m not sure whether it is actually part of a series, and if so, it is definitely not book 1.

Fanfiction

I don’t usually recommend stories that need some knowledge of canon for true enjoyment, but if anyone is familiar with Hawaii Five O I would like to say how much I liked this pair of stories:
Deja Vu All Over Again and Time in a Bottle by stellarmeadow***** can be found at https://archiveofourown.org/series/36205 as the Out of Time series. Unfortunately, since the second one was uploaded in 2014 it’s unlikely there’ll be anything further in this ‘universe’.
Steve and Danny turn out to have some superman powers to do with stopping time, but find a lot of angst while coming to terms with them. The plot is interesting, the m/m element is believable, and the writing is excellent. I gather the author is also a published writer but I looked at her published books and the themes didn’t appeal to me.

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