December Reviews 2022

Daughter’s dog unwraps his new dinosaur in our lounge.

TV and books for December. I’ve put them all into one post for New Year’s Eve.

TV

Castle Howard : Through the Seasons. ***** (All4) 4 episodes. A no brainer because I worked there every sixth form and uni holiday as a tour guide, and one of the Howard boys was in my mother’s class when she taught in a private school for a while. (Not sure if it was the current owner.) A nostalgia trip and it was interesting to see how the current owner is altering the way the estate works.

Jews Don’t Count (David Baddiel)*****(All4) Based on the book with the same title by the presenter. (I added it to my KU wishlist). Thoughtful discussion of why and how Jews in modern UK and US have an uphill struggle against antisemitism. I have now read the book and will review it too (see below). Sadly, it didn’t live up to the programme.

Death in Paradise Christmas Special **** Despite the fact that the plot was less complex than usual, I enjoyed the Christmas ghost story vibe of this long episode.

The History of Now (BBC iPlayer) Simon Schama *** The very long introductions to the three episodes confused me since they were all the same. I think I’ve watched all three, possibly in the wrong order. There were some interesting moments but I’m not sure I learnt or retained a great deal.

Planet Sex with Cara Delavigne (BBC iPlayer) *** I’ve watched about half of the series and keep meaning to return to the rest but the fact that I haven’t probably says a lot.

Prince Andrew: The Musical*** Half watched while multi-tasking. Quite good but not really memorable music, and as the Guardian review said, it almost sanitised some really nasty stuff.

Reading

I have read a lot of short stories, some from ‘advent calendars’ and others in magazines such as New Statesman (Alan Garner) and New Scientist. After a while, Christmas offerings seem to blur and I haven’t listed them all here. I enjoyed them, and offer thanks to all the authors who gave their work to readers, but you’d get bored with a rundown on ‘pleasant Christmas story’ repeated with some alternative ways of saying it, over and over again.

Books

The Best:

Death in Heels by Kitty Murphy***** Fab – murder, drag, mm and mf romance, found and real families and their drama, Dublin setting. This was an Amazon First Read (Prime subscribers get a free or discounted book every month) so was in among a number of other mainstream books. I’m so glad I chose it and I was pleased to see the issues it raised in a mainstream setting.  Will definitely look for the sequels.

bad data by georgina sturge***** Amazing detailed look at the data that underpin government (by all parties) by a statistician at the House of Commons Library. This was a Christmas present (my family know me…) and I devoured it straight away. 

Also excellent: If you’re only going to buy one, go for the charity anthology which has lots of stories which range from good to remarkable and is in a good cause!

Consider Pegasus (Si Clarke)**** A very enjoyable sequel to The Left Hand of Dog, and Judgement Dave. I had an ARC copy to read and review for J Scott Coatsworth’s Liminal Fiction FB group and left a much more detailed review there (14th December). In the footsteps of ‘greats’ like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, Si Clarke uses apparently light hearted sci fi to explore serious social issues. This one is centred  on the question of whether a unicorn or a pegasus should be allowed to exist. 

Kind Hearts at Christmas ed. Liam Livings**** It isn’t often an anthology gets four stars from me. Christmas romance (mm) stories collected by the editor and sold in aid of HIV and AIDs charities. Some of the authors were new to me and others were familiar. I think this is possibly the first anthology I’ve read where every story is at least readable, and some are brilliant. If I had to choose a favourite it would be Clare London’s Santa Number Five with its clever echoes of Hot Fuzz and its air of mystery until quite late in the story. But I was also totally intrigued by Jack Pyke’s paranormal world(s) in Holly and the Heathen and would like to know more.

The Best Gift by Eli Easton**** I thought/feared this was going to be another ‘just a romance’. However, there was enough excitement to add a star to a well written story set in a Christmas ‘wonderland’ with gifts and trees.

The Christmas Leap by Keira Andrews. **** Pleasing friends to lovers story with a few dramatic moments to raise it above the general over-sweetness of the season. Michael and Will have been best friends for years, until Michael ‘ghosts’ his friend. Then Will needs to rescue Michael and they both realise what they’ve been missing.

The Christmas Throwaway by RJ Scott**** A cop rescues a young man thrown out by his family for being gay. Nice story with extra interest in the form of cartoon style illustrations added for this special edition.

The Santa Problem by Barbara Elsborg**** Lovely Christmas story with magic and reindeer. I would actually have liked a little more about the magic but enjoyed it enormously anyway.

Christmas in January by Charlie Cochrane**** It was great to see Dan and Steve again after their first book, Don’t Kiss the Vicar. I enjoyed catching up with them, and with their problems. I hope the author will continue to let us know how things are going.

Some other books worth considering:

Life is Right Here by Sophia Soames*** Lost a star because despite  a HEA (or maybe HFN) ending, I was constantly distressed by the illness of one of the characters I’d loved in the first book so didn’t enjoy the read. I wished, almost to the end, that I hadn’t read it in the run up to Christmas because I was getting so upset. Yes, it warned for triggers, but I didn’t expect that to be such a huge part of the plot. Very well written and the two intertwined families are incredibly real. I suppose that’s why it upset me so much! Recommended but you have been warned!

The Emperor’s Aeronaut by Shelley Adina and RL Scott*** Fascinating world building – steampunk during the Napoleonic wars. I was less impressed by the characters and much preferred Adina’s series Magnificent Devices set in Victorian times (also steampunk). I’ve written a fuller review for Scott’s group.

A Badger’s Tale by Geoff Francis*** This was saved by the illustrations, gorgeous photographs by the late Eric Ashby. The story of Liam becoming a badger shifter, followed by the story of the badger clan, is interesting but I never managed to suspend disbelief. Then the whole thing just sort of petered out so I was left wanting more badgers, more about Liam as an adult, more photographs and more in general!

Don’t you want me by Liam Livings*** Technically well written mm office romance but for reasons I can’t work out, this author doesn’t make me care about the main characters. The same was true of their story in the Kind Hearts at Christmas anthology.

Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel*** Gained a star by being totally worthy. I loved the TV programme but found the book badly structured and hard to follow properly. Whilst Baddiel makes some very valid points about the way antisemitism is separated from other ‘isms’ and treated as less important, he seems to be almost rambling about things he has read or seen, which have (not surprisingly) offended him rather than formulating any kind of plan to deal with them either politically or in argument between friends etc. A large portion of the book concerned the current attempt to right past wrongs by using e.g. deaf actors to play deaf characters and actors of colour to play characters of colour but never any effort to cast actual Jews as Jewish characters. I came away confused as to his actual opinions on the issue as a whole. An interesting book but one that I suspect was only preaching to the converted and had little to offer in the way of putting things right.

The Cottage in the Highlands by Julie Shackman*** I enjoyed this slow burn mf romance set in Glasgow and surrounds (not exactly the Highlands but still…). The story was quite convoluted, involving a couple of investigations (Leonie is a journalist) but the book lost a star for two reasons. One was the rather clumsy punctuation of dialogue, and the other was the epilogue which was really the end of the main story rather than a ‘later’ addition, and was very rushed.

No fanfiction this month other than Small_Hobbit’s Christmas Hamlet which was as amusing as usual, but tbh only got read at all because the chapters kept landing in my inbox. https://archiveofourown.org/works/43358580

I have not managed to read all the free stories I’ve been offered this month. I must do better and maybe at least get to the end of the Christmas themed ones in January. As for my tbr pile, I leave it to your imagination!!

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