October reviews

TV and films

The Secret Life of the Zoo***** Chester Zoo has started a new series and I have seen the first episode. I will be following the series. The first one was rather bittersweet because it came immediately after the news that two of the baby elephants who feature in the series have recently died from elephant herpes. Whilst I know some viewers see this series as a kind of eye candy, I enjoy learning more about animal behaviour, both specific and general, and seeing the interactions between the keepers and their charges.

Les Miserables** The novel was one of the first long ‘classics’ I read, when I was about 11. My classmates were in awe – I suspect they thought I was reading it in the original French but of course I wasn’t. They didn’t know I was skimming all the philosophy sections that bridge the actual story chapters so the book wasn’t as long as it looked. I also watched one of the TV films. I wasn’t excited about the musical because of knowing the story so well but wanted to see what they’d added. So far as I could see, nothing. The sets were very ‘staged’ and depicted a strange theatrical Paris. Crowe and Jackman can both act but neither can sing. I didn’t like any of the music. Oh well…

If this is wrong produced by Franzesca Dickson** This is a film about fandom, the result of a Kickstarter funding that I contributed to. But the film fell short of the task I thought it had set itself. The focus was fandom among young women, not women (or people) in general, and as such, it didn’t really hold my interest.

Dr Who** I’ve now watched four episodes of the new series. I like Jodie Whittaker and the fresh look a woman doctor brings to the series. But I’m not impressed with the companions. They are not stellar actors and seem to have been choreographed to stand in line rather like a chorus in a musical. The characters and their relationships are impeccably politically correct, and the plots, so far, are worthy but didactic. I think the new producers and writers need to work harder.

Transformers** I think this was the first in the series. Anyway, it appeared on TV and I half watched it. I wasn’t thrilled but the concept is intriguing and I’m sure it’s nice for kids.

Books

The good:

Snow in Montana and Second Chance Ranch by RJ Scott. ***** These are the last of the Crooked Tree Ranch series and bring the various stories to a satisfying conclusion. I still think the number of gay characters in a small community is unlikely, but the writing is good, the plots are exciting, and the whole ‘cast’ is interesting. I also read Boyfriend for Hire**** by the same author and although I enjoyed it, the story was too slight to merit five stars. An escort hired to take a woman to a wedding falls for her brother. Nice, but not memorable in the way the Ranch series is. I’m aware that there is to be a series but have not yet investigated.

Full Disclosure and Buyer’s Remorse by DJ Jamison (Real Estate Relations Books 1 and 2) ***** These are excellent and appealed to me more than the Hearts and Health series by this author, probably because the romance, in both cases between well rounded characters, was mixed with some exciting mystery and crime. I will definitely be following the series, and hope to meet Camden and Reid, and Miguel and Lee again, plus their extended families.

My only sunshine by Rowan McAllister. ***** A ‘western’ romance set on a ranch, with fascinating family politics, a local crime to solve, and a slow romance build to maintain interest.

Storm Glass and Mirror Gate by Jeff Wheeler **** These are the first two novels in the Harbinger series which I will be following. I like the entire dystopian quasi-steampunk AU with the strong heroines but I did feel that book 2 was heading towards being more overtly religious/moralistic in tone. I had been delighted by the way the first in the series let the reader see aspects of our own world (especially our economic divisions) from a new angle – something I expect of good fantasy and sci-fi. The sequel seemed more prone to leading the reader’s opinions, but the story is good and I will buy the next book.

Why I’m not talking to white people about race/Reni Eddo-Lodge**** I have written an in-depth review of this which I will post on WordPress and on my Dreamwidth blog this week, and for now I will just say I was impressed. However, for me personally, the theme was a familiar one which is why I have only awarded four stars. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone wanting to know more about race relations in UK.

The Works 2: Poems on Every Subject and for Every Occasion edited by Brain Moses and Pie Corbett**** I found this among my rescued books. I skimmed it, really, because a lot of the poems were familiar, and others were never going to appeal because of their subject matter. I passed it on to my grandson, for whom I probably originally intended it (it postdates my own teaching career)and who will, I think, thoroughly enjoy the sections where poems on maths and science are gathered together. It’s altogether a good collection if you’re looking for something for the 9-13 age range or for someone who teaches that level.

The mediocre:

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward *** I found this harder to read than The Fire and the Fury. It covered much of the same ground with greater focus on the campaign and some of the team. It was clearly written for an American audience which made it sometimes hard for an outsider to follow. I did gain one or two new insights, such as the effect on American politics of the way candidates can spend vast sums of their personal fortunes on their election campaigns. We tend to view other countries through the lens of our own experiences and this book made it very clear that America is, for me, an extremely alien place.

The Arrangement by Felice Stevens *** The book had Reed and Carter in an arrangement that was supposed to be purely sexual, then of course the pair fell in love. The main angst was centred on Reed’s ADHD and Carter’s brother with his developmental delay. The story was all right, and the writing was competent but I got annoyed at the way everyone, including Reed himself, referred to conditions like ADHD as an illness.

Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott *** The only way I can describe this is that it was weird! Rotherweird is supposed to be a town in southern England that has been deliberately cut off from mainstream life since the days of the Tudors, because of a mystery that the book investigates. The concept was good, but the characters were two dimensional, heroes and villains alike, and the mystery was somehow extraordinarily unpleasant. There was some good writing: Tudor times were told in present tense which made them more accessible, whereas present day happenings were told in ‘normal’ narrative style. The town itself was lovingly described, in great detail, and so were some of its annual events.

The bad:

Springtide Meeting by Emma Perkins ** The heroine is sent to Weymouth for her health and falls in love with her doctor who, only having communicated with her in writing, does not realise she is his patient. The late eighteenth century setting is poorly presented, and the story seems unlikely. I didn’t care much about either of the main characters and the minor ones were so minor as to be negligible.

The Billionaire’s Boyfriend by Geoffrey Knight ** I think this was meant to be funny but the humour was unrelenting and heavy handed so I got very tired of Matt and Calvin and will not be following them in what is apparently to be a series.

The Thief Taker by CS Quinn ** This crime story is set during the Great Plague of London in the seventeenth century but degenerates into some kind of semi-supernatural tale with plague victims as a stand-in for zombies. Unlikely and not terribly well written.

My only home by Lina Langley * This was supposed to be an mm romance and a ghost story. There was no obvious reason for the romance and the ghost turned out to be a time traveller. Some bad writing (it was not always easy to know who was saying or doing what) and some even worse proof reading with typos galore. Noah and Anthony were supremely uninteresting, with inadequate background stories, and two dimensional characterisation.

And then the dire:

Cozy Mystery 7 book set by Sylvia and Leigh Selfman: abandoned. I just couldn’t stand the style, and gave up after a few pages. The set was free, thank goodness.

Dragonlore by Daniel Arenson: also abandoned after a few pages. This is the first book in a trilogy with dragon and phoenix shapeshifters in a political struggle which ends in open warfare. I didn’t like the characters or the style of this free book.

The Banished Craft by E.D.E. Bell: abandoned. There were humans in a dystopian post-apocalyptic society, dragons in another similar situation, and intervening aliens who spoke and thought in capitals. There were no detailed characters to attract any empathy, and no immediate sense of a gripping plot, other than the possible collapse of the entire system. I gave up trying to follow any of the threads. Another freebie.

Stoker and Bash: The fangs of Scavo by Selina Kray: abandoned. This one wasn’t free and sounded good, being the beginning of a series based round one of the earliest detectives in the Victorian police force working with a consulting freelance detective. I suppose I expected something like Sherlock Holmes but I was disappointed. The first mystery involved the world of spiritualism, and I couldn’t work out what the crime was meant to be, after quite a few chapters. So I stopped reading, though it’s still on my Kindle so I suppose if I ever have nothing to do, e.g. in a waiting room somewhere, I might continue.

There were far too many dire, this last month!

Fanfic

I’ve been downloading the Professionals Big Bang which is where writers and artists come together to create long and hopefully satisfying stories for the fandom. By next month I might actually have read some, but I suspect they will all require some knowledge of the show.

I’ve started on some similar works in the Lewis Challenge Halloween Frightfest. There’s some good writing, so far, but again, unless you are familiar with both the characters and their backgrounds it isn’t really accessible.

I have been following the latest instalments in Brumeier’s series After the Eclipse ***** which can all be found at https://archiveofourown.org/series/839529
These are delightful sci-fi tales using fandom tropes but set in an original small community (with slight echoes of Nightvale). Brumeier’s writing is assured and polished. I would highly recommend this series. It doesn’t, by the way, have any romance. I think I may have mentioned it before, but she has posted another couple of stories this month so it’s worth another look if you already know and like it.

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