March Reviews

I know we’re nearly half way through April. I’ve been busy…

Films and TV etc.

The excellent

The Crimson Rivers*****

Really good French cop series that keeps suggesting supernatural explanations but always ends up with human criminals. Interesting cops.

Paddington*****

OK, late to the party – we didn’t think grandson would like it because of the death of the uncle near the beginning, so I never saw it… Lovely!

Shetland*****

Good cop series set on Shetland. I liked the cop team, the landscape and the plot.

Line of Duty Season 4*****

Cop series centred round an anti-corruption team. Gripping! So now we need to binge watch 1 – 3 before embarking on 5.

Early Man*****

I always like the animated clay productions. The humour was great and so were all the references to modern problems in this look at early man.

The good.

A Very British History ****

Excellent series looking at the history of various immigrants to UK (Gipsies/Black Brummies/Leeds Jews/Ugandan Asians).. Whilst it was good that each episode was told by someone who was part of the community, I would have liked something tying the programmes together.

Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil****

The lead-up to the current Brexit problems. Well done but I would have liked more ‘before and after’ context, however brief.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Heroines**** (see separate WordPress post)

Interesting lecture which included a look at the recently refurbished home of Elizabeth Gaskell in Manchester.

The Yorkshire Ripper Files****

The programmes had a focus on the victims and their families. It was interesting to see how and why it took so long to catch Peter Sutcliffe, and to see how police and media attitudes to women have had to change.

The poor.

Be Mine **

Very slight shortish film. It was mm romance so I thought I’d watch to see what the cinema did with it. Not a lot… Also, it was hard to work out what was flashback and which character was which.

And the ones where I gave up.

Baptiste: abandoned

Retired cop starts trying to find a missing woman and ends up involved in international crime. I missed an episode and found I couldn’t be bothered to catch up. I wasn’t keen on either the main character or the plot and found it hard to suspend disbelief.

The Bay: abandoned

I got annoyed with the policewoman from the start, and with her inability to organise her family, let alone her work.

Mums Make Porn: abandoned

In theory they were making a porn film that respected women, but in the process of doing so they interviewed and watched professional porn stars doing just that so I couldn’t see the point.

The Yorkshire Vet: abandoned

I loved this programme for the location (I used to live near there) as well as the animals, but the ops were so gory I gave up.

Shadowlands (not the CS Lewis story): abandoned

It was billed as three short stories about people seeking love. The first was a narcissist and the scenes were thoroughly nasty. I didn’t watch for long.

 

Books

The excellent

Dim Sum Asylum by Rhys Ford*****

I adored this cop story set in a fae San Francisco. I kept thinking I’d read it before but then realised it was an extended version of a story that appeared in the Charmed and Dangerous anthology, which I’d loved when I read it. This book is well worth the re-read at the beginning.

Rising Tide by Susan Roebuck *****

As usual, Susan Roebuck makes us feel as if we have been transported to Portugal. The hero and heroine, both part Portuguese, are brought together in a fishing village at risk from the manipulations of corrupt businessmen.

Set in Stone by Elin Gregory*****

A gripping and delightful short story with a supernatural twist. I shall file it with my Halloween stories and re-read it!

Spies, Planes and Automobiles by Elin Gregory and Charlie Cochrane*****

A nice short mystery where one of the heroes of Eleventh Hour meets the Cambridge Fellows.

State of Hate produced by Hope Not Hate*****

This year’s look at the state of the far right and their activities. Worth reading and worth keeping for reference.

Bitter Legacy and Object of Desire by Dal McClean*****

I couldn’t put these down! Exciting stories featuring a gay cop and two of his cases, set against his search for a lover. Each novel stands alone, but I think the way they’re interlinked adds to the pleasure. Excellent writing.

Rapid Response by DJ Jamison*****

Another book in the Hearts and Health series. This time it’s a firefighter and a paramedic who get together. The main pleasure of the series lies in getting to know the entire community, the hospital, etc. The story explores mild BDSM, being in the closet and being bi/pansexual.

Hidden Treasures and Late Fees by Marshall Thornton ***** (Pinx Video Mysteries 2 & 3)

Noah is a fascinating hero, since he is gay but HIV positive and still angst-ridden about his past. This is unusual since it gives us a story about gay characters without any sex, and as a result gives insight into gay Los Angeles. The city is described in detail and for the first time (and I’ve read quite a lot of books set there) I felt I might be getting to know it. The first of these sequels is concerned with aging cinema stars and their costumes, and the second has Noah’s mother come to stay and inadvertently involve him in a murder mystery.

Invitation to the Dance by Tamara Allen*****

A newspaper reporter and his copy editor are encouraged to go undercover to get information, by their editor. As well as the wanted social gossip they uncover criminal activities. Tamara Allen deftly brings the pre-WWII world of America to life

The good

Justice in the Sarladais by Stephen Reinhardt 1770-1790****

Interesting detailed look at social and criminal issues in the area around Sarlat just before the French Revolution. At times the book read like an expanded Ph.D thesis (which it might well have been) but it was an illuminating look at the social change in a rural area during the years leading to the revolution, and at the beginnings of the modern French judicial system.

Lord of the White Hell vols 1 and 2 by Gill Hale****

Some good world building and I liked the culture clash described as Kiram tries to adapt to Javier’s different country. However, towards the end I got slightly tired of the antics of the demon and was simply glad the heroes got together and seemed set fair for an interesting life together. I gather the next book deals with Elizar, who was not one of my favourite characters so I won’t bother reading it, especially because Hale’s books are very expensive, compared with other Kindle volumes.

The Broken Circle by Enjeela Ahmadi Miller****

An autobiographical account of how the author and her family escaped Afghanistan when the Russians arrived. The details were interesting and I was anxious for the family to survive and come together again. However, I could have done with slightly more context and perhaps more pointers towards the Taliban future. Maybe the author didn’t have these herself.

The Dodo, the Auk and the Oryx by Robert Silverberg ****

A friend recommended this and I was glad I bought it. It is out of print (it was originally published in the ‘70s) and in a sense it needs a new edition with some up to date statistics. It was a great introduction to extinction by both natural causes and human intervention, and would be a good starting point for further research. I bought it with my grandson in mind but although I will lend it to him, I shall keep it for myself. It’s a Puffin book but I think would be too hard for most children, as it assumes quite a lot of knowledge. I imagine the author and the publishers wanted to influence young minds. Silverberg is known to me as a sci-fi writer but I had never read any of his science writing.

The mediocre

Prism Cloud by Jeff Wheeler (book 4 of the Harbinger series) ***

I have got tired of Cettie and Sera and their inability to affect either their own empire or the other kingdom in this steampunk series. Both heroines started out interesting and determined but they now seem to be at the mercy of other people’s activities and agendas. The events that were, I think, meant to be startling were in fact quite predictable and the book was somehow flat. I don’t think I’ll bother buying the sequel.

The poor.

Spoonful of Flavour Leafy Greens e-book **

There were some nice recipes but I felt cheated. The book was meant to be a freebie for signing up to the author’s newsletter. It isn’t really an e-book, because frequently it catapults the reader back into the blog with navigational difficulties and a complete inability to copy/paste good recipes. All it has really done is make me unsubscribe…

Dominus by P Kenwood:  abandoned.

This came highly recommended but I didn’t get far. There was a great deal of ‘bad’ language which might well be realistic but throws me out of a story, there was some odd choice of vocabulary, there were startling point of view switches, and I simply found the general style unreadable.

Buttermilk Ranch by Patricia Logan: abandoned

The writing was very repetitive with occasional lapses into info dump. Again, I didn’t get far.

Fanfiction

(I only review the excellent, which I recommend, and mostly only fics that are accessible to readers who are not in the particular fandom.)

The Man with the Clockwork Heart by danceswithgary***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/16644200 6967 words

The story was written in response to art, in what’s known as a reverse big bang and both pay homage to Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, an anime film, The fandom is SGA but this is so AU only the names really give the origins away. John is the one with physical problems and Rodney is the scientist who can put things right.

From the Pen of Inky Quill by okapi ***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/6848800/chapters/15633211 40,821 words (so far)

This is an excellent series of anthropomorphic crack!fic, poetry and ficlets set loosely in the Sherlock universe. It is added to from time to time and occasionally appears in my inbox to my delight.

 Tits v. Porny by jeeno2 *****  https://archiveofourown.org/works/18115103#main 5289 words plus the lawsuit that inspired it  https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/9757a1_8b7166541a084d5ebe957b896cdc8132.pdf

A fascinating look at copyright, publishing, porn, lawsuits, etc. with a very mild m/f love story holding everything together. It’s worth ploughing through the very real lawsuit as background; it’s relevant to writers everywhere.This story is set in the Starwars fandom but like the SGA one is so AU only the names are the same. As the summary says: Ben Solo and Rey Johnson are attorneys, working together to defend their client against claims of plagiarism and copyright violation brought by a published author of original A/B/O fiction.

A Sheppard’s Christmas Carol by Brumeier***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/17087363  7641 words.

Fresh and interesting retelling of A Christmas Carol with John (SGA) visited by the spirits. The author was very inventive with the spirits she used. Worth keeping and re-reading, probably at Christmas. Perhaps not quite as accessible to people who don’t know SGA but lovers of the Dickens story should find the treatment interesting.

 

 

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.

International Women’s Day

(First, a confession. The photo is taken from Tripadvisor. Yesterday was incredibly wet and I couldn’t take a decent photograph.)

My daughter and I and a couple of friends went to a talk on Elizabeth Gaskell’s Heroines at Elizabeth Gaskell House in Manchester on Thursday. The talk, given in honour of International Women’s Day, was given by Dr Diane Duffy and was well worth attending.

Dr. Duffy clearly knew a great deal about the Victorian novelist and her life and works, but also gave us plenty of food for thought. I had read a couple of Gaskell’s works and had watched the BBC costume dramas but too long ago to recall the details or the names of all the characters but our speaker soon made sure we all knew the outline of the stories.

She started by unpacking the word ‘heroine’, pointing out the recent de-gendering of the term so that we now have female heroes, and gave a slide presentation showing aspects of the way heroines had been depicted in Britain in the past in both text and art. Some of her listeners felt she paid too little attention to attitudes in other countries, and other literatures, but so far as Britain was concerned I think her points were valid, even if somewhat ‘parochial’.

We were asked to consider the attributes we expected to be assigned to male or female heroes, and to look at the true nature of heroism. This was interesting and thought-provoking, especially given the preponderance of ‘hero’ movies today. Even in an atmosphere of ‘liberation’ for women we are capable of automatic stereotyping and a failure to notice or admire characters who do not conform to those stereotypes.

It was clear that Gaskell tried to push the boundaries of what was acceptable to Victorian readers, just as other novelists did, particularly Charlotte Bronte, who was a friend of Gaskell’s. Some of the characterisation they developed might seem very slight to us but was really subversive in Victorian times. Women, then, were advised that if they were intelligent or well-informed, they should hide the fact, and in most publications it was thought obvious that a blonde beauty would not only be the main character but would also be ‘innocent’ and would ‘get her man’ whereas anyone with dark hair would inevitably turn out to be a villain. So a dark-haired heroine was a really new departure for the audience of the time. Some listeners made the point that Disney was in fact one of the first to go against the trend, and although their depiction of Snow White with dark hair was in keeping with Grimm’s text, it was also in direct opposition to the prevailing norms.

Gaskell had publishers to contend with, too; you can’t get a message across if you can’t get your book printed and sold. She was perhaps more subtle in her attempts to subvert the ‘normal’ way of thinking, and did not meet the same kinds of publisher outrage and panic experienced by Charlotte, or by Wilkie Collins. I know today’s publishers are driven by the profit motive just as much as their forebears were, and I wonder how far the current development of self-publishing and small indie publishers/co-operatives will allow more widespread questioning of the social order.

The talk was certainly relevant to anyone who writes female heroes and perhaps to all writers, given the way that prejudices and stereotypes were questioned.

The Elizabeth Gaskell House is a beautifully presented small museum just outside central Manchester. The building has been renovated by Manchester University and lovingly restored to its nineteenth century incarnation as a Unitarian minister’s house – and that of his wife who gave us some enjoyable and provocative novels. I would recommend a visit if you’re in the area!

January reviews

Films and TV

Somehow or another I seem to have gone square-eyed this month. We treated ourselves to a Firestick to try to reorganise our TV access and I re-subscribed to Radio Times after a couple of years’ hiatus. Result: more TV and more films via TV or Prime or Netflix. I might have got a bit carried away. Most of what I watched was excellent.

The really really good. Watch them if you can.

Fantastic Beasts***** Magic and mayhem in the world of Harry Potter but earlier.
I, Daniel Blake***** Chilling indictment of government policy on benefits. Rewatch (husband hadn’t seen it.) For Brits, still on iPlayer till Monday night.
Brexit: An Uncivil War***** Benedict Cumberbatch clarifying the referendum.
A Very English Scandal***** Jeremy Thorpe’s attempt to murder Norman Scott. We were Liberal Party activists at the time…
The Huntsman: Winter War***** Chris Hemsworth in the sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman
Tangled***** Disney version of Rapunzel
The Great Fire of London***** Three hours of TV – I wouldn’t have watched (fire ‘triggers’ me) but it was on in the lounge.
Bodyguard***** Six gripping episodes of a very Brit thriller which we caught on iPlayer later than most people!
Treasures of the Indus***** Art, architecture and religion from Pakistan to southern India. Mesmerising and informative.

The good. Watch them if they’re brought to your attention.

American History’s Biggest Fibs**** Lucy Worsley. I didn’t learn much but the presentation was good and so were some of the interviews with academics.
Monkey Kingdom**** Disney natural world film. It’s better with the commentary switched off – just saying…
The Jungle Book **** Golden oldie! Rewatch.
Dr Who: The New Year special.**** I like the new female doctor.
The Yorkshire Vet**** The season finale celebrated the life and work, both medical and literary, of Alf Wight, or ‘James Herriot’.
True Lies****Arnie Schwarzenegger stars with Jamie Lee Curtis in a romantic spy romp. Silly but good. Rewatch
Manhunt****Martin Clunes stars in the docu-drama about the way the Met finally linked the murder of Millie Dowler wwith that of Amelie Delagrange. Fascinating look at the minutiae of police work.
DCI Banks pilot**** Not sure how I missed this when I originally watched the series.
The Prosecutors: The Babes in the Woods Murders****Explored the way the law changed, forensics progressed, and a killer was finally brought to justice, with emphasis on the way the families reacted all along and were kept in the picture.

The mediocre

Starship Troopers *** Based on Heinlein’s novel. Excellent CGI makes it worth watching but I disliked the book and then the film. Rewatch because it was on in the lounge.

The dreadful

The Wolf of Wall Street* DiCaprio stars in this semi-factual drama about the rise and fall of a US stockbroker. The acting and direction were good and I’m sure the depiction of the characters as incredibly foul-mouthed was accurate but I hated the amount of swearing, which got boring, and there were no characters to empathise with. Like the Great Fire film, this was on in the lounge and I wasn’t going to be driven out…

I’ve started following three series:
The Crimson Rivers***** French cop drama – good so far and I’m tending towards looking for fanfic
Grantchester***** I had never watched but I’m impressed! Takes place in the era that encompasses my ‘formative’ years and deals well with social problems of the time.
Death in Paradise**** Cosy mysteries with humour set on a Caribbean island. Again, I had never seen them and now that I know the cast I won’t necessarily watch every week but might turn to it for ‘comfort’ viewing.

Books

The excellent

In case of emergency by Keira Andrews***** Step brothers for a few months, years ago – but Cole puts Daniel down as his emergency contact and then has an accident which leads to them spending Christmas together. A delightful Christmas story which I will almost certainly revisit next year.
Lessons in Cracking the Deadly Code and Lessons in Chasing the Wild Goose by Charlie Cochrane.***** Two novellas in the Cambridge Fellows series. I usually prefer full length novels for detective stories but despite being short, these are beautifully crafted mysteries with plenty of college and period detail and well developed secondary characters.
Machineries of Empire. Book 1: Nine Fox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee***** Really worthwhile sci-fi, complex and beautifully written. Excellent world building and fascinating characters. Explores big questions about cultural conditioning, gender identity, war, obedience, genocide… all in a grippingly alien far future. Star Trek on steroids. I have almost finished book 2 and have bought book 3.
Good Omens by Gaiman and Pratchett***** A re-read. One of my husband’s friends sent it to me saying he thought I might like it. I have no idea what it says about him or me that he thought I might not have read it already… It’s as good as ever though I think after the first reading there’s a sense in which the novelty is gone. However, you can concentrate on the details instead of the story. Apparently there’s to be a TV series.

The good

Rustic Melody, Rustic Memory and Rustic Moment by Nic Starr.**** A nice trilogy of m/m romances set in Australia. The locations were refreshing, the main characters were endearing and well developed, the secondary characters were good, the plots were gripping and the writing was excellent. So why only four stars and not five? Well, we were ‘treated’ to sudden incursions of extremely long accounts of very explicit sex that did not further the plot or character development. I found that tiresome. A few paragraphs would have sufficed.
Silly Signs with no apparent author but published by Aura **** My husband picked this up in a supermarket. Some of the signs were truly hilarious. There was the usual crop of poor translations but some of the funniest were not translation.

The mediocre

Ultimate Christmas by Jane Newdick*** Swathes of beautiful decorating ideas that nobody would ever have time to copy, but I might re-read it next year for the recipes in the final section and there are some fresh ideas for handmade cards.
(The Ultimate Book of) Doing up old junk by Whitecap Books*** I can’t think this is the actual name of an author and assume that like the Silly Signs book, the publisher is taking full responsibility. I was fascinated by some of the advice and techniques but couldn’t really think why anyone would strip down furniture and then paint it and add patterns and flowers etc. Even given chips and dents, most pieces benefit from less interference, not more. I can sort of see why you might paint over burn marks, but unless the piece is a family heirloom, the amount of time and effort expended seems out of proportion to the results. Interesting food for thought, though perhaps not quite in the sense intended by the creators.

I read the rest of the Rainbow Advent Calendar and other freebies offered on FB etc. I enjoyed them but there’s nothing to highlight. In fact, I think next Christmas I’ll just revisit my favourite seasonal stories. I also continued to read through my Georgette Heyer collection which provides me with a great deal of pleasure.

Fanfiction

Nothing to report. I’ve been catching up with the rest of the Bandom Big Bang, the Stargate Atlantis Secret Santa, the Lewis Christmas Challenge and some previously missed Professionals ficlets. All satisfying reads but all needing not only knowledge of canon (source material) but also fanon (concepts introduced by fans and now accepted as a kind of canon).

December Reviews

Happy New Year to everybody! As usual, I fully intend to post more this year but it is already 8th January. Last year I made a resolution about it and then failed spectacularly so this year I won’t even promise, just cross my fingers! Anyway, here are my December reviews.

TV, films and theatre

I have to say that a mid-December trinity of a re-subscription to Radio Times (after a few years’ absence), a Firestick for our TV and an exploration of my Amazon Prime video possibilities changed my viewing habits – probably permanently.

King Tut’s Treasure Secrets. (UK Channel 5)***** Perhaps all the more interesting because I saw the King Tut treasures in the Cairo Museum.

Secret Life of the Zoo***** I’ve loved this, as usual, and am looking forward to the next season.

The Wave (2016) with Kristoffer Joner***** Excellent disaster movie set in Norway where an avalanche sets of a wave that inundates a village. Based on a true danger.

Dr Who**** The Season ended and was good, but perhaps a bit too ‘worthy’ in its focus on current topics and having a diverse cast. I like the new doctor but I did feel a bit preached-at.

Sherlock Holmes (RDJ) **** re-watch. Mad and fun! I did find that the sound was erratic on TV – I have got used to my laptop and headphones.

Escape from Dubai. *** Interesting (in-laws were just back from Dubai…) but it skated over a lot of the issues it raised.

Books

The excellent:

Lessons in Loving Thy Murderous Neighbour by Charlie Cochrane***** Excellent as usual. The neighbour in question is the college next door which features in a lot of the books. I am still missing the senior Stewarts but Jonty and Orlando continue to ‘hook’ me.

This is going to hurt by Adam Kay ***** (Subtitle: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor) Hilarious and frightening account of the author’s experiences. Makes you hope you never need a hospital. I definitely wouldn’t give this book to anyone pregnant – obstetrics were Kay’s specialty.

Magnificent Devices by Shelley Adina *****. This was a boxed set of three novels which I absolutely loved – steampunk adventure with feisty heroines. I certainly intend to buy the next books.

Joseph Barnaby by Susan Roebuck
***** Joe takes refuge in Madeira after problems in UK. He meets Sofia, niece of his employer and together they fight and overcome their difficulties. A gripping novel of action and romance with an unusual location and very believable characters.

Iron Garland by Jeff Wheeler **** The third gripping instalment of the Harbinger fantasy series.

Brit (ish) by Afua Hirsch**** (Subtitle: On Race, Identity and Belonging). I’m not sure I was as impressed by this as by the Why I’m not talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. It was recommended to me by someone who read my review of that. Whilst this book raises, and in some cases explores and explains some interesting issues, it is largely based on the author’s own experiences as the child of a very middle-class ‘mixed’ marriage, and does not necessarily reflect the problems of ethnic minorities in UK. As an essay in coming to terms with her own identity it is extremely well done.

Mr Winterbourne’s Christmas by Joanna Chambers**** Adam and Lysander are the lovers in a delightful mm Regency romance. Only four stars because it was quite short and I desperately wanted more.

Rainbow Advent Calendar**** Four stars for a mixed bag of short stories. These were LGBT Christmas freebies with a new story each day. I didn’t actually read them all – I mostly ignored the ones that were part of a series I wasn’t familiar with and the vampire ones which didn’t appeal as Christmas fare. I also got slightly confused because I downloaded some other Christmas freebies from writers on Facebook or whose newsletters I follow. Anyway, most of the stories were lovely but too short to review individually. I have to say that by the end of the month I was suffering from a surfeit of sugariness but that’s because I read the stories as they came out rather than saving them for occasional enjoyment. My reason for doing that was that most of them had a Christmas theme! I have kept a few in my Calibre library for re-reading next December:
Cruising by Charlie Cochrane***** (inspired by her own 2018 arctic cruise)
Baubles by Jackie Keswick***** (a short and delicate budding ff romance)
Remembering You by Crystal Lacy**** (a Christmas homecoming leads to meeting a highschool crush again)
The Christmas Knife by Jackie North**** (a heartwarming story when the theft of a present leads to romance in the face of a blizzard)
The Elves of Christmas by Wendy Rathbone ****(an unusual ‘take’ on Santa’s elves)
A Frosty Tail by Dawn Sister**** (meeting Jack Frost with a huge dose of myths and legends with a twist)

The readable:

From Out in the Cold by L A Witt *** Neil and Jeremy both have PTSD (for entirely different reasons) and unsupportive families. But as usual, this author sets up the situation then has no real plot though again as usual there’s a hopeful ending and the writing technique is good enough to keep me reading.

The River Leith by Leta Blake *** This is a typical amnesia story about an amateur boxer who can’t recall his lover. It’s quite well written and researched but boring. Not enough happens and I have read better stories with this trope.

Adore by E Davies ** Caspian and Matt and their romance. I suppose it was all right. I didn’t abandon it.

Taboo for You by Anyta Sunday. Abandoned. I simply didn’t get on with the style.

The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous by Jilly Cooper
. Abandoned. I was surprised that I found both the style and the main characters unappealing as I usually enjoy this author.

Nova Praetorian by NR Walker. Abandoned. I couldn’t summon up any interest in the characters who seemed wholly unrealistic.

That makes 168 books read and reviewed this year. I discounted the ones I’d abandoned but added in the re-reads of Heyer etc. that I have only referred to briefly. I didn’t include fanfiction and of course some of those are novel length. So I seem to read about three or four books a week. Some are just novellas but on the other hand, some are seriously long!

Fanfiction

The books above kept me busy so I didn’t read many fanfic offerings this month but a friend recommended

A Kept Boy by poisontaster***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/253311 A fabulous exploration of slavery and power dynamics in an alternate universe that mirrors modern USA, using a number of American actors in the main roles. I couldn’t stop reading and will definitely be reading the sequels.

November Reviews

TV, films and theatre

The Secret Life of the Zoo (weekly; ongoing) *****
The animals at Chester Zoo continue to be both fascinating and eye candy.

Beck. Season 1 ****
Swedish crime drama but Beck does very little except preside over a somewhat dysfunctional team. Good police procedural, worth looking out for next season.

Sleeping Beauty **** Pantomime at our local theatre. Stunning sets, costumes, choreography and special effects. Pity about the music which was loud and sometimes drowned both dialogue and lyrics (and led to the loss of a star from me). Typical panto, well done and enjoyable, not least for the reactions of the kids in the audience.

Dr Who (weekly; ongoing) ***
The female doctor with the ensemble team cast of companions continues to try hard to improve our minds.

Harry Brown **
A pensioner (Michael Caine) turns to vengeance when a friend is killed. Gritty and gruesome.

Kill Bill*
Confusing and unpleasant. Maybe I wasn’t concentrating?

American Gangster*
Similarly confusing and unpleasant despite the presence of Will Smith.

Solaris. Abandoned.
Sci fi – very slow and the director seemed more interested in photography than plot. Based on a Russian novel that had good reviews. George Cluny starred.

Books

The good:

The Traitor Lords Saga by Adella J. Harris *****
A Regency trilogy. I should really mark this down to four star because of Americanisms and coincidences, but I couldn’t put it down. There are three books in a boxed set: Lord Lynster Discovers; Lord Heathborough Invests; Lord Edwin Falls. Each concerns the inevitable problems (and the eventual mm romance) of the sons of a group of noblemen convicted of a treasonous plot. The characters and their various entanglements are wholly delicious. Highly recommended.

Night Drop (Pinx Video Mysteries 1) by Marshall Thornton *****
The amateur detective is a fascinating character and the crime, and solution, are interesting. Whilst this is an LGBT novel, there is no romance in this first volume. Recommended.

Murder of a Straw Man and Murder of a Working Ghost by Robyn Beecroft *****
This new Dancing Detectives series is set in the fens near Cambridge and Ely with interesting and believable amateur detectives who manage to reach, however ineptly, conclusions to convoluted cases. Rory is a ‘vlogger’ with family problems and his lodger, Hayley, is both ACE and ethnic minority. Rory is gay and not exactly closeted but his budding romance is very slow moving. A series well worth looking out for, not least for its portrayal of small town English life and the delightful helpings of information about Morris dancing. Recommended.

Band Sinister by KJ Charles *****
Guy is in some senses a country ‘innocent’, thrown into the path of his neighbour, Philip, a nobleman with a wicked reputation which of course is not deserved. A delightful Regency romp. Highly recommended. I also read The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh**** by the same author. This is a short story about Gabriel and Francis from the Society of Gentlemen series. It’s well written but very brief and probably wouldn’t stand alone so not recommended unless you’re already following the series.

Love Can’t Conquer by Kim Fielding****
Jeremy’s teen crush died – or did he? The story is intriguing and the novel is well written. Recommended.

The Greenwood and the Grail by Harper Fox****
Book 3 of the Arthur series. This one was quite mystical, with Lance retreating to a magical forest, cared for by Parzifal. Arthur fortuitously finds them when he enters the forest after a battle. I didn’t personally enjoy this as much as the first two volumes (too little action and too much introspection) but it extends the story, which twists and tweaks the legends of Arthur and Lancelot beautifully, and I would recommend the whole series. I gather it’s one of those trilogies that is going to have a fourth part…

Criminal Intentions. Season 1 Episode 1 ‘The Cardigans’ by Cole McCade/K****
Malcolm and Seong Jae are partnered as detectives and find each other quite difficult at first. But their case work is interesting and their relationship, off to a rocky start, gets quite intense. This is an example of how a crime drama can be meshed with an mm romance and work to enhance both angles. Recommended.

Civilisation (New Scientist: The Collection)****
This is a worthwhile collection of articles though there are a couple that seemed to me to be less than stellar. It covers all the latest research in palaeontology and archaeology as well as more speculative and/or statistical fields looking at religion, migration, politics, and other social issues. It’s well presented and illustrated. I enjoyed being able to read through a number of articles that really interested me all in one volume and might look out for others in the Collections series. Recommended.

Operation Makeover by DJ Jamison (Hearts and Health 7)****
Ridley, who works in the same hospital as other characters in the series, has had a hopeless crush on a friend since high school. He asks Cole, a stylist, to help him change his looks and clothes in an attempt to be noticed, but in the process, falls for Cole. Well-developed characters and nicely written. Recommended.

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch ****
Book 6 in the Rivers of London series with PC Peter Grant. I was slightly disappointed. I understand that there are some short graphic novels between the main volumes, and I suspect I have been missing some events in Peter’s life since I don’t enjoy (and therefore don’t read) graphic novels. Despite the presence of new and interesting magic users, the book concentrates more on police procedure and less on magic than usual. It’s the magic that ‘makes’ the series, so for me, this was a serious drawback and I don’t think I will be in a hurry to buy the next volume. I waited long enough for this one, because initially the e-book was £9.99 which I thought was outrageously expensive (more like the price of a hardback) but I bought it when it was eventually offered at 99p! Not really recommended though I loved the series prior to this volume.

The merely readable:

Conduct Unbecoming by L A Witt ***
Eric and Shane are in the US military and their problem is not the fact that they are gay but that their disparate ranks make even socialisation unacceptable. There is no real plot once the situation has been outlined, though there is a hopeful ending. The main focus of the book seems to be a tour guide to Okinawa which sounds interesting but was not quite what I wanted.

And the dire…

This is a long list with six abandoned books and as you can imagine, I got increasingly irritated this month! I hope I’ll save other people from the pain.

My First Murder by Leena Lehtolainen. Abandoned.
A Finnish police procedural. Extremely boring. I didn’t care who committed the crime or want to know any more about the detective.

The Portal Prophecies by C A King. Abandoned.
To be fair, this fantasy series might have teenage readers as its target audience. I found the style irritating and when I realised it was to be more than one volume I gave up. There are teenagers in a world a little like ours but with massive doses of misogyny, warrior dragons in another world, and other aliens on a different plane altogether who talk in capital letters. I assume they eventually all get together but I didn’t read that far.

The Fraternity of the Estranged: The Fight for Homosexual Rights in England 1891–1908 by Brian Anderson. Abandoned.
The focus of the book is the struggle of three academics, Carpenter, Havelock Ellis and Symonds. I was expecting more about the Wilde trial, given the dates. I strongly suspect the origin of the book was the author’s Ph.D. thesis – it is quite scholarly though fairly ‘dry’ and concentrates on a small area of the field. The trouble for the ordinary reader is that it reads as though written by a grasshopper, with frequent leaps to and fro in time and from one character to another. I got confused, bored, and annoyed, so I skimmed the chapter titles which gave a clue to the contents, and gave up.

A Detached Raider by Ana Night. Abandoned.
Confusing. Also, unlike Criminal Intentions (see the four star reviews) this is an example of how a crime drama can be meshed badly with an mm romance and not work at all. The characters were insufficiently differentiated, which was the confusing bit, and their thoughts about each other kept intruding into the police procedural sections which was both annoying and slightly unrealistic.

Silent Hall by NS Dolkart. Abandoned.
A fantasy book that was strange in that any initial world building was absent and the teenage characters spoke and behaved like modern American teens despite living in a faux mediaeval world with some strange place names thrown in. I didn’t like the writing style but might have continued if the story had hooked me. Apparently it deals with a post-plague scenario and the quest for a new home.

The Witches of Cambridge by Menna van Praag. Abandoned
This came highly recommended. I got quarter of the way through, and there was still no evidence of any plot. There were numerous characters, quite well-developed via flashbacks (which I regard as an irritating technique most of the time), the main narrative was in present tense, and one of the witches sparkled.

Fanfiction

I have nothing to recommend this month. I finished reading the Lewis FrightFest offerings, and read most of the Professionals Big Bang stories. They were (in both fandoms) a mixed bag, some very well written, some case fics, some ‘gen’ fics, and some romances, but all needed a knowledge and love of the fandoms to make sense. I didn’t have time to look at any other recommendations from any of my friends because the two lists mentioned here were quite long.

An in-depth review.

WHY I’M NO LONGER TALKIKNG TO WHITE PEOPLE ABOUT RACE by Reni Eddo-Lodge

I’ve used the cover of the book as my heading picture, and it might not be obvious from a 2D picture that the words ‘to white people’ are in white and that central section of the title is not blank. The actual cover has the words reverse-embossed so that they’re ‘hollow’ and therefore more obvious. I think it’s a clever cover design, provided you have a printed copy.

My husband bought the book and hadn’t time to start it so handed it to me to read first. I thought it deserved a longer review than my usual few lines.

In the first section, on history, I didn’t learn anything. I already knew the broad sweep of what the author was describing and explaining, though of course I didn’t always know individual stories.

Then I realised that she was saying she didn’t know all this when she started researching as a young academic and journalist. That made me sad, because it seemed to negate all the work I and a lot of other people had put into anti-racist education. Reading further, it dawned on me that her lack of knowledge at that age stemmed from the way the national curriculum in UK changed the way anti-racism was tackled in schools. That started just as I left my job in the anti-racist education movement, and it is, I think, responsible for that negation of our work. I am not sure whether this was by negligence or design. As I read more of the book, I began to suspect design, at least on the part of a few highly-placed individuals who wanted to stem all efforts to fight for equality and who had influence on the way the new curriculum was being developed. Conspiracy theory? Perhaps, but most of the evidence points that way.

When I talk about myself and others I should explain that I was a member of a team of anti-racist activists, employed by a local authority. I was responsible for teaching and lecturing, both in schools and in higher education, and was involved in producing anti-racist teaching materials and then both trialling them and encouraging their wide dispersal. We worked together as a small team under a superb leader (Burjor Avari) who got an MBE awarded for his work in the field. We were in touch with other similar teams, and also worked closely with people who ran conferences and national seminars, funded both by government and by charities. I should probably also explain or admit that I am white, British, middle-class and highly over-educated.

So I read on, with an increasing sense of anger directed at those in power who had effectively wasted all the effort we had made, whatever their motives.

The rest of the book was also full of information that would probably be new for many readers, but mostly not for me. I have a postgraduate qualification in anti-racist education and also used it as my main theme when I did a counselling certificate. However, there were a number of things that were both interesting and new. Anything that had happened after I took early retirement in 1997 had probably crossed my radar in my reading of the news but had not been something I had studied in any depth.

I was impressed by the way the author took an approach that combined meticulous academic research with a style that made the book accessible to readers who were either not academics or not familiar with the jargon which so frequently creates problems for people who are not actually involved in that particular area of academia. I know that jargon is essential in some respects and that most academic books grow out of research and are bound to be presented in that way, but this important subject certainly deserves wider reading.

The book deals first with the history of black people in Britain, then goes on to explore the institutional racism of the British system of justice, employment, social services, etc. It next talks about white privilege and what it means, following this with an explanation of the ‘fear of a black planet’ which permeates the ideas of the far right and is increasingly being ‘sold’ to the general population via some parts of the media.

Having shown how the system perpetuates those privileges and fears, the writer goes on to investigate the intersectionality of race, class and gender. Again, none of this was new to me but it was extremely well presented and when I was teaching and lecturing I would really have liked this book to refer to as a text for my adult students.

Reni Eddo-Lodge goes on to discuss how people can fight the system, and I was relieved to realise that I had in fact done everything she suggested. I often felt overwhelmed by the task (something she predicted) and as I explained above, saddened by a kind of failure, but at least I tried. So did my colleagues.

The book grew out of a blog post that talked about the author’s exasperation with the white people she spoke to, and how she had decided not to engage in further discussion, but to sit back and recharge her batteries. I could empathise with this but am pleased at the same time that she was persuaded to expand her thoughts into this book.

The book gained fame (and awards) and initiated widespread discussion. And then, just after it was published, two things happened to make the final chapter a necessary new addition.

‘Aftermath’ (not in the first edition) deals with the Brexit vote in UK and the election of Trump in US and the subsequent normalisation of racist rhetoric and actions. Reni still claims to be optimistic because at least the discussion of the issues has reached the mainstream, and many of our politicians are aware of the need for reform.

I hope she is right. I hope a lot of people read her book. I’m glad I did.

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.

September reviews

TV and films

Far From The Madding Crowd****
I quite enjoyed it and it’s a very beautiful film. However, I still prefer the old Julie Christie version and I didn’t think this was somehow as true to the Hardy source. It kept to the story, but the characters were not quite Hardy’s characters.

YouTube 2Cellos mix****
This is one of my go-to mixes and I love their work. As with all collections, some of the chosen music appeals to me more than the rest. My favourite is the Game of Thrones theme, set in Dubrovnik.

Kingdom of Heaven***
I wasn’t expecting miracles of this. Orlando Bloom is incredibly wooden, as usual, and there are far too many battle scenes during which I got bored and started reading/playing games/checking emails/etc. The history is well presented and interesting. Something that annoyed me was that the blurb ‘sold’ it as having Philip Glennister and Nikolai Coster-Waldau in it. Well, it did, but in tiny roles – blink and you’d miss them. False advertising in a way!

Vera Drake***
I’m sure this was very worthy and presented the problem of ‘back street abortion’ in an interesting way. Imelda Staunton is an excellent actress. However, I knew all the background to the story, and because I grew up in that era I was familiar with all the painstakingly recreated locations, indoor and out. So I got bored.

Books

The excellent:

Junk ***** and Barging In***** both by Josephine Myles
These were both excellent stories with well developed characters including the minor ones. The themes, respectively hoarding, and living on a narrow boat, were meticulously researched and interesting. I particularly like the ‘Englishness’ of this author’s work. Both highly recommended even if you don’t always read mm romance.

A Seditious Affair***** and A Gentleman’s Position***** both by KJ Charles in her Society of Gentlemen series.
Two excellent mm romances. Both explored serious themes and events, the first the undercurrents of English rebellion in the wake of the French revolution, and the Cato Street conspiracy, and the second, class differences and the effects of an ‘upstairs/downstairs’ society on thought. Again, highly recommended though as they are not stand-alones, you might want to start earlier in the series. I have been continuing my Heyer re-reads and this author gives us just as much historical detail together with similarly well-developed characters. As it is an mm romance series set at a time when homosexuality was criminal, all the books deal well with this aspect of society at the time.

Fish out of Water by Amy Lane *****
An ex-cop and a lawyer get together to fight corruption. In the process they become involved with each other as well as rescuing Jackson’s brother from a trumped up charge. Some thrilling action and I was desperate for them to succeed. I am glad to see there are sequels.

Polo by Jilly Cooper *****
This was a re-read. Some of my Jilly Cooper books seem to have escaped the fire, and were in a box that came home. I love her novels set in the fictional county of Rutshire and will be re-reading the ones that have survived. Her writing is not truly great and has far too many bad puns and purple prose passages. However, as well as making the reader empathise with the main characters, despite their flaws, the author educates us very carefully about the underlying theme chosen for each book, in this case the game of Polo. Other stories feature topics as diverse as education, murder, orchestras, and art galleries… Highly recommended though if you’re approaching them for the first time it might be best to read them in order or you’ll get confused by some of the families. Polo has the romances between Daisy and Ricky, and Perdita and Luke as its main focus. As with the Heyer books, I will not continue with reviews, but I will be carrying on with the books!

Tribute Act by Joanna Chambers ****
A story in the Porthkennack series of novels by various authors set in the fictional town of Porthkennack in Cornwall. This one deals with family tensions, highlighted by a young girl’s need for a liver transplant. It was good, though I didn’t quite get immersed in either of the main characters.

The mediocre that other people might like:

Alpha Delta by R J Scott ***
Niall and Finn connect on a north sea oil rig and then there’s a terrorist plot. However, the story is too short to develop either the heroes or the villains adequately and whilst I like this author I think she should stick to full length novels.

Special Delivery by Heidi Cullinan ***

Another author I usually like and the writing was good, but the plot, centred round a young man who runs off with a truck driver, lacked total plausibility for me.

Fire and Water by Andrew Grey***
The first in the Carlisle Cops series but I won’t bother with more. A cop protects and then gets involved with a swimming instructor. The story explores concepts of beauty and attitudes towards it. I was not particularly interested in either of the main characters though the story line was reasonably gripping, with an abusive ex making trouble.

Dead Things by Meredith Russell ***
A rather unlikely zombie apocalypse with some mm romance thrown in for some reason though as the characters had very little interaction with each other rather than with the zombies it was hard to see why.

And the poor:

Loaded by Casey Ashwood **
This was a novella and followed a rather tired ‘gay for you’ trope. Poor writing.

Fanfiction
I’ve been reading snippets from the Marylebone Monthly Illustrated (all kinds of original characters including talking animals set in the Sherlock Holmes world), stories for the Lewis Summer Challenge, which need an in-depth knowledge of the show, and the Bisto Con 2018 zine which needs familiarity with The Professionals for real enjoyment.

If you like mm romance, I would recommend
Love Is A Rebellious Bird by gloria_andrews and 100percentsassy*****
https://archiveofourown.org/works/1162438
This is a clever AU based on the characters from the One Direction band but setting them in the world of classical music and the LSO. You don’t really need to know anything about the characters to enjoy the story, the main focus is on music, and the plot is convoluted and interesting. However, forget the epilogue, which, although it contains a rather well done proposal scene, follows the main characters right up to old age in a short chapter. The story would have worked better if it had finished just before this but maybe the writers’ fans demanded more.

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.