February Reviews

Films and TV

The excellent (watch if you can and if they’re still available).

They Shall Not Grow Old*****
The special version of WW1 footage, edited and coloured under the direction of Michael Jackson. A fantastic feat, though beginning with a long section of flickering black and white might have been good cinema but nearly made me switch off with a headache.

Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain*****
Fascinating because it basically covered my life. While you’re living through events you’re not always aware of the wider picture.

Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the South*****
I loved hearing the history of some of the American music, but even more, I enjoyed the road trip through the southern states. Whilst I knew perfectly well where they were it’s actually rare, on Brit TV, to see any film of that part of USA and I now feel I have a much more detailed mental map.

Grantchester Season 4*****
This is the first Grantchester season I’ve seen and I loved it. Since I was new to it, the departure of Sid didn’t upset me. I’ve always liked Robson Green and I enjoyed the mix of crime with the accurate and detailed look at the period, which was the time of my childhood, and as I was the daughter of a country vicar this was inevitably going to appeal!

100 Vaginas *****
Amazing, excellent, poignant, and intriguing. I think it’s still on catch up TV in UK (ch4) and if it is, watch it! It unravelled women’s attitudes to what is sometimes seen as a taboo subject with incredible photography and sensitive narration.

Desperate Romantics*****
Fabulous. I knew that with Aidan Turner as Dante Gabriel Rosetti it was likely to be good, but Millais, Hunt and Lizzie Siddall were good too. So was Tom Hollander as Ruskin. I bought it ages ago and forgot about it. Six hours of fantastic acting in a mesmerising story about some of our most famous artists. Plus, I’ve seen some of the originals of the paintings that were the focus of the story and have been to a number of pre-Raphaelite exhibitions. I wallowed in this and will be watching it again.

The good.

British History’s Biggest Fibs****
Lucy Worsley makes history interesting, as usual, but I think this started with an odd premise. Most people who studied any history beyond the age of about 14 (or just did a lot of reading) wouldn’t believe these fibs anyway, and the rest of the general population wouldn’t remember them. That’s as far as the Wars of the Roses, and the Glorious Revolution are concerned, at any rate. But maybe Victoria and the empire are a little more recent and people do look back to what they think was a golden age. And maybe this was an attempt to alter the public perception of the empire carefully slotted into a more general history lesson.

Dogs behaving (very) badly****
Really, it was the owners, in every case, who were behaving, if not badly, at least foolishly. The trainer gently but firmly put them on the right track.

Death in Paradise Season 8****
‘Cosy’ mysteries with a beautiful tropical background and an interesting ensemble cast. I felt nostalgia for my trips to the Caribbean, and I enjoyed the banter. There were plotholes galore but I would watch again for the humour and the scenery. I kept thinking about the ‘backstory’ in Lewis that had Lewis in the BVI after his wife’s death, and wondered why we never got a series about that period – maybe this was it?

The real Saudi Arabia: why I had to leave****
The young fashion designer who went to visit relatives in Saudi to see whether she could live there might have known it would end in tears, but she really did try hard. I was surprised by the ending.

The vaguely watchable.

Moulin Rouge***
Nowhere near as good as I was led to expect. When we went to Paris we stayed near the Moulin Rouge and the film didn’t give a real picture of the area. In fact, I found it unlikely and faintly annoying.

And the unwatchable.

Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities – abandoned
I couldn’t stand the way this was presented. Not sure if it was the narrator’s voice but I found myself falling asleep despite the inherent interest of what was being shown.

Gavin and Stacey – abandoned.
It was supposed to be a romantic comedy but I didn’t think it was either… Not sure why I bought it in a charity shop but it’s going back there.

Master and Commander – abandoned
I was looking forward to this but… Too much sea and too much gore. Since I’d read some of the books I already knew the characters and there wasn’t going to be any element of mystery or development so I gave up.

Books

The really really good (highly recommended):

Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee*****
Both the second and final volumes of The Machineries of Empire were wonderful sci fi, with plenty of aliens, space battles, futuristic science, sex, and explorations of ‘big’ themes like gender identity, loyalty and democracy. I was dying to know what happened but didn’t want them to end. I was initially disappointed in the ending but then realised I just hadn’t wanted the story to end at all. It was perfectly satisfactory except that I wanted more! Highly recommended series for anyone who likes sci fic. And a huge thank you to the person on my DW f’list who recced it!

Snow and Secrets by RJ Scott (Stanford Creek series 3)*****
This was almost stand-alone but is actually part of a series. Nice characterisation and an interesting plot. The series as a whole deals with m/f relationships but this volume is m/m. I much prefer Scott’s writing when she is developing the story of a whole group or community. She is very good at locating the reader in a ‘place’ with ‘real’ people, and I would rather follow her series than read her shorter standalones.

Cops and Comix by Rhys Ford (Murder and Mayhem)*****
I love this series, with the dysfunctional but rich family, the cops trying hard to keep up, the background of valuable artefacts in the film and comic industries, and the mayhem that seems to follow everyone who gets anywhere near. Another writer who pulls the reader into a fully realised location and group of people.

My Anti-Valentine by DJ Jamison *****
Three stories here, all on an ‘anti-valentine’ theme and all well written and satisfyingly romantic in the end.

The Station by Keira Andrews*****
A fascinating story based in the convict days of Australia. The research was detailed and the reader learns a lot about the deportation process and about the outback in those early times.

Apple Boy by Isobel Starling*****
A gorgeous introduction to what promises to be a fascinating series. As I pre-ordered it, I was sent a beautiful map too. The world building is excellent, slow and detailed with no sense of any ‘info-dump’. The magic is unusual and interesting. I gather we will meet new characters in the sequels but already the minor characters are almost as well developed as the main protagonists and we can trust the author to introduce worthwhile personalities to inhabit her world.

Concierge Service by P.D.Singer*****
I loved the angst in this romance, with the main character desperate not to compromise his position as a brilliant metropolitan concierge at a top hotel despite falling for a guest. I liked the way the relationship developed and the fact that there was very little sex until the end. The UST was much more exciting than the more explicit accounts in so many books.

Two for the Road by Alexa Milne *****
A May/December story about a man who falls in love with his friend’s son, a young man who has in turn loved him since they first met. Most of the relationship is developed during the lifts to and from work which underpin both the plot and the title. I also enjoy reading stories set in my own part of the world (northern UK) especially when the author obviously knows the area well and loves it. I read this while I was doing the final edits on a May/December story of my own, so it was even more appealing.

The Holly Groweth Green by Amy Rae Durreson*****
This is a Christmas fairy tale (which is a kind of contradiction in terms). It takes place after WWII when a naval doctor, damaged by the war to the extent that he can no longer practise, is stranded in a snowstorm and meets someone living in a house in the countryside – a house that later turns out to be an uninhabited ruin. But this is not a ghost story, and although it takes place over the twelve days of Christmas, that’s because those are the days the fairies have chosen when they laid a curse on Avery. A fabulous story (in both senses) and one which I must read every Christmas. This year it didn’t reach my notice till February but now that I have it, I shall treasure it!

The good. Good enough to recommend but I probably wouldn’t re-read them (usually because they’re very short). All these are well written and are excellent examples of the art of the short story.

The Fall Guy by Chris Quinton****
A Pinkerton agent ends up following suspects across the Atlantic to London. I actually hope this might turn into a series.

Bad Valentine ****
Four novella by four authors, all well written and worth reading.
Love Magic by Jesi Lea Ryan ****
Oliver thinks Derrick is ‘just’ a conjuror but it turns out Derrick has real magic.
Quill Me Now by Jordan Castillo Price****
Dixon thinks he is a failed spellcrafter but when he meets Yuri he learns the truth about himself and his family.
Hidden Hearts by Clare London****
Ethan and Kel survive clumsiness and disasters to make something of a valentine date.
Temporary Dad by Dev Bentham****
Nick and Dylan work through minor deception and fantasy to a good relationship in the end.

His Spark by DJ Jamison ****
A very short story in which Josh and Dylan act the parts of Harry and Draco from Harry Potter but find their own personalities are better in the end. Nicely written but this is another author whose series appeal to me more than her shorts.

Valentine’s Day with Princess Petunia by K-Lee Klein****
How easy or difficult can it be to find romance when you’re a single dad? Bobby finds out when he meets Greg.

Drawing Love by Tully Vincent****
A short story with a focus on a drawing one of the main characters did in primary school. The love he was trying to convey then has lasted.

Blitz by Charlie Cochrane****
Two guys who fancy each other but have never acted on their feelings are thrown together sheltering from the blitz.

The readable (just)

Forgive me Father by PL Travis***
Jamie underwent an appalling childhood which is reconstructed in almost loving detail. The second half of the book deals with his experiences in adulthood when he has overcome his past, but it is told in a blur of events and people, with a lot of death and angst all round. Jamie has a good life in the end, but I wouldn’t read this again.

The Ultimate Greetings Card Book by Caroline Green (re-read) ***
Some of the techniques are good but most of them are already well known to me. A reasonable reference book but no really new ideas or anything I’d forgotten about.

The dire

Three Sisters (Emily Castle Mysteries 1) by Helen Smith *
I was mesmerised by just how awful the characters were, how unlikely the plot, and how garbled the explanations. I did finish it but only just. The style was irritating, too, with attempts at purple prose and experimental prose too.

Hunter’s Chase (The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries 1) by Val Penny – abandoned
I think this was making an attempt to be the next Inspector Rebus series. It failed.

Fanfic

I eventually finished the Lewis Christmas Challenge stories, the SGA Secret Santa ones, and the Bandom Big Bang. Lewis and SGA demanded in-depth knowledge of canon, but two of the Bandom stories would, I think, work well for the new reader. Both are m/m stories that use real people, or at least their media personas, to explore sci fi/supernatural themes. I really enjoy AU stories in Bandom, because nobody can complain that the stars are being unfairly treated – after all, everybody knows they don’t live in a world with space travel, vampires, werewolves, magic, etc.

ataraxia by akamine_chan https://archiveofourown.org/works/17224229 (3707 words) studies possible attitudes to androids, with obvious reference to canon stories and films in the genre. Frank meets Gerard on Venus and is excited to be working with him.

Ethici Strix by ermengarde https://archiveofourown.org/works/17212841 (2458 words) Gerard is job-hunting when he accidentally meets Frank, who is cool, but weird. An eventual vampire theme.

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