July Reviews

Well, yes, we’re half way through August but I’ve been on holiday. I didn’t forget my reviews but simply didn’t find time to write them. Here you are at last!

TV and films

A brilliant film and a brilliant TV season.

The Dark Crystal ***** I rewatched the original Jim Henson movie after seeing the new prequel series that was a homage to Henson. Amazing film work and fascinating story.

Vera Season 5***** Never ceases to delight.

Then a disappointment.

Local Hero. Abandoned – plodding US comedy set in Scotland.

Books

The highly recommended:

A Gentleman Tutor by Harper Fox***** This story of a job that was too good to be true, followed by a nail-biting rescue was beautifully written and fascinating from start to finish.

All That Remains by RJ Scott***** Lancaster Falls Bk 3 The whole Lancaster Falls trilogy has been a delight with small town detail, interesting characters, mm romance, and the ever present undertone of evil and murder.

Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin***** A typical Rebus novel that covers so much about Edinburgh, modern Scotland and individual psychology that it’s hard to point to specific parts. I like Rankin’s writing very much indeed.

Thornfruit by Felicia Davin*****The Gardener’s Handbook Bk 1. A gorgeous start to a trilogy set in another world with a strong ff main pairing fighting a terrifying attempted coup using magic, intelligence and courage. Needless to say, I have bought books 2 and 3.

The History of Underclothes by Willett and Cunnington**** An intriguing look at how underclothing changed over time (mediaeval period to WW2) and how it both supported and mirrored changes in fashion and in social mores. A pity this was written in the ‘50s because I’d really like to have read more about the immediate post war period which they didn’t cover. Beautifully illustrated and worth reading for anyone with an interest in fashion or social history.

The reasonable reads:

Divided House by JK Dalgliesh*** Dark Yorkshire Bk 1 A police procedural in which the main police detective doesn’t follow procedure. Surprisingly gory and not quite believable.

The Woman on the Cliff by Janice Frost*** A woman starts to reinvestigate a death that occurred when she was at uni, when her daughter starts to study at the same place. Interesting but not really memorable.

Miracle in the Library/Lessons in Love/Pride of Place by Helena Stone***. Three novellas that form a sweet trilogy about romance between Mitch and Cian. Well written but student romance is not my favourite genre. For anyone who likes it, this is lovely.

The Doll House by Phoebe Morgan*** Quite a chilling thriller in which pieces of a doll house keep turning up. Lots of suspects though I guessed the solution quite early.

The Pick, the Spade and the Crow by Bill Rogers*** A police procedural with a lot of info dump and so much procedure that I got bored. I prefer some character development, even in the crime genre, and would point to Rankin’s Rebus as a model.

The Woman in Our House by Andrew Hart*** Creepy thriller in which a nanny not only turns out to be not quite who she seems, but involves the family in a dangerous problem.

The poor:

Forsaken by JR Gray** Titus is part of a religious cult, He rescues Angel who has been beaten and abandoned. Romance and escape ensue but there were too many plot holes and I never really got to care for the characters.

Short Stories

When the Smoke Clears: edited by Meg Bawden**** An mm romance anthology set in the aftermath of last year’s Australian bushfires and sold in aid of associated charities. The stories were mixed but mostly good. I was pleasantly surprised I was able to enjoy them despite my Portuguese experience of wildfires.

Love starts with a smile by Nick Thiwerspoon**** (ficlet) https://nikolaos-thiwerspoon.blogspot.com/2020/07/love-starts-with-smile-ficlet.html
A nice though very short story by a writer who is a friend and member of the writing group that helped me at the start of my writing career.

Taxes and TARDIS by N R Walker**** This was almost a novella. It’s set in Australia, like most of this writer’s work, and deals with the attraction of opposites.

Abandoned

The Visionary by Charli Coty. I gave up. I think it was about zombies and paranormals but I’m not altogether sure.

Firebolt by Adrienne Woods (Dragonian series 1) Dragon shifters in a magical boarding school…

Fanfic

Only one recommendation – a murder story set in the world of Lewis, but capable of being read as a stand-alone.
Et Mors Ludos In Arcadia by asparagusmama **** https://archiveofourown.org/works/24853942

Everything else I read needed too much fandom knowledge to have general appeal.

Visiting Zenda

I recently re-read a book that had appealed to me first time around – in my teens! The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope. I had and have no idea why I liked it so much. It’s a novel with romance and adventure set in a fictional small kingdom in Eastern Europe in Victorian times. The plot is unlikely and the characters are fairly two dimensional: the feuding royal brothers, the princess whose hand might solve the problem of succession, the Englishman who just happens to resemble the crown prince closely and also just happens to be near the royal lodge at the crucial time, and the men who support their masters.

I think perhaps the lure of the story is that whilst apparently set in our own world it actually transports the reader to a fantasy world where good and evil – and princes – rule. The Englishman, having saved the throne and the princess for his ‘double’ returns to the quiet life of an English gentleman so there is no immediately happy ending, just a distancing of the entire situation into the realms of fiction, and a suggestion of how the hero can tug at our heartstrings without ever getting the prize. Despite this, the book works.

Of course, the tropes it uses were not ‘tired’ at the time it was written (1894) and it must have caused quite a sensation among the readers it reached. The writing somehow appears fresh even today, and I found myself drawn firmly into the world of make-believe where a wicked step brother could imprison the heir to the throne and an intrepid trio of supporters could defeat him and his henchmen. The book is sold as a historical novel but of course it was nothing of the kind. It was set in the time at which it was written.

This brings me to the reason for re-reading it. KJ Charles recently published The Henchmen of Zenda. I enjoy her writing, recalled the original, and decided to re-read before embarking on her novel, so that I had some idea of the world she was writing about.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Henchmen of Zenda too. It’s basically the same story, but told from the point of view of a different Englishman, one of the supporters of the ‘wicked’ prince. The plot details his growing feelings for another of the henchmen. The same caveats apply: the story is so basically unlikely that the reader is advised to treat it as fantasy and most of the characters are two dimensional. The princes are both wicked in their own ways but we are never given details of their sins.

The story does, in this case, have a happy ending for the hero, who escapes from the fictional kingdom with his lover. Unfortunately, I disliked the hero and his romantic partner intensely and was therefore unable to celebrate their eventual romance adequately. (I should probably say that I didn’t particularly like Hope’s heroes either.) This is in no way a criticism of the book, which is a very well written and absorbing tale. I think it probably needs knowledge of the original to make it work well or at least to add layers to the enjoyment. However, I would recommend it anyway.

In both books the combination of romance, fantasy, and excitement is fascinating. We are taken into a fictional world that has more in common with mediaeval ballads than Victorian industrial and empire scenarios, and given a story full of sword fights, dungeons, betrayals and loyalties then returned to the end of the nineteenth century leaving Ruritania lost in the mists of time, somewhere that never really existed but that we almost wish was part of history.

Charles manages to let the reader think this is a retelling by Hope – her style is a brilliant echo of the original but with modern overtones such as the same gender love at the heart of the story. I know Hope wrote a sequel (Rupert of Hentzau) which is completely at odds with Charles’ narrative, but in such a fictional world I think both plots have equal validity.

Obviously, Charles is ‘playing in Hope’s sandbox’, something that is often done in the case of classics that are well out of copyright. This is not only permissible but to be applauded. We have only to think of a few examples: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a modern one as is the BBC Sherlock, and then there are things like most renderings of the Arthurian legend, and Shakespeare’s use of previous plays in his own portfolio. The author who retells an old favourite with a different twist, whether that’s in the plot or the characters, is adding to our cultural storehouse of dreams and memories. (If the original is still in copyright the ‘twist’ is called fanfiction, but that’s another subject…)

Altogether, I enjoyed my second trip to Hope’s Ruritania, and my first to Charles’ re-imagining. I’m so glad she wrote about the henchmen and re-introduced me to the romance of Zenda.

June reviews

TV and film

Picard: Season 1
***** I watched because I’d been asked for a Picard fic by one of my auction winners. Anyway, I was hooked, and binge watched.

Vera Season 4 ***** Continues to be one of my favourites, partly because of the location and partly because she’s a competent cop and quite different from the average TV cop.

Sleuths, spies and sorcerers: Andrew Marr. **** Interesting critique of and support for genre fiction. Three programmes. They were a repeat, and I think they’ve now disappeared from catch-up TV but I did find them enjoyable.

Dispatches: Coronavirus: Did the government get it wrong? **** Good but not outstanding.

Books

The excellent

A Killer’s Wife by Victor Methos*****
I couldn’t put this down. Very exciting and surprising thriller. A serial killer’s wife (who had no idea of his activities) later becomes a public prosecutor. She is then drawn into an investigation of seemingly copycat crimes.

Slippery Creatures by KJ Charles***** Delightful story set in London between the wars. There’s some mm romance and some spying skulduggery. No HEA as yet, but there are sequels to come.

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (1894)***** – This was a re-read before reading the KJ Charles book (see below). I’ll post at greater length about the two books.

Without a Trace by RJ Scott***** (Lancaster Falls Bk 2). As gripping as the first, with well developed characters in this portrayal of undercurrents and betrayals in a small town.

The very good

Sparks Fly by Clare London****
Nice story with a computer hacking mystery underpinning the mm romance, presented as a serial in the author’s newsletter. Not a format I often turn to, but I enjoyed this.

The Killing Code by JD Kirk**** Another ‘tartan noir’. Very competent writing but somehow after the first book I didn’t really warm further to the characters. I bought three so I read three…

Lessons in following a poisonous trail by Charlie Cochrane****
Nice Cambridge Fellows episode where it isn’t really clear for some time whether people have been poisoned or not, and why.

The Henchmen of Zenda by KJ Charles**** I’ll be posting at greater length about this and the original Anthony Hope novel.

I perhaps ought to point out that the difference, for me, between five and four stars is whether I’d re-read the book rather than any difference in quality.

The acceptable.

Deadly Obsession by DS Butler*** Police procedural with some loose ends and some unlikely police behaviour leading to danger for the hero, etc. Acceptable but I won’t be following the series.

Salt Lane by William Shaw*** (DS Alexandra Cupidi 1.) Gripping story but I didn’t care enough about the detective or her family to follow the series. There were plotholes and a strange lack of thought by some police officers which landed them in more trouble than necessary.

Abandoned

Constable on the Hill by Nicholas Rhea. This is the book the TV Heartbeat was based on, but it lacked the charm of the TV adaptation and I got bored. Also, the ‘hero’ was full of the attitudes and prejudices of the time and was therefore not someone I liked.

I appear not to have read any short stories in June, and the same goes for fanfic though I have, I think, read a few drabbles and ficlets in friends’ blogs. I’ve been too busy writing…

Another way of looking at Tube maps

Once upon a time, when our daughter lived near Croydon, I became familiar with South West Trains, particularly the Caterham and Tattenham Corner lines, because they were the easiest way to access central London. I had started writing my fae saga, and I suppose fae were on my mind. We (my daughter and I) went to the Tate Modern where I saw some wonderful ‘maps’ with different names of all sorts imposed on actual maps. Then we went home by train and I picked up a map of our route. I played about with the names and the shape of the lines until I was reasonably happy with them.

I thought I’d share the result with you. I’ve included the real map too, for comparison purposes. I don’t imagine the rail company will care about their copyright as it’s a very old map and definitely out of date (and possibly out of print). We usually alighted at Gnome…

I wonder whether, during the lockdown, and the reduced train services everywhere, the fae might have crept out to play again, and whether they would approve of my station names! And whether any of you might spot them, out of the corner of your eye, when travelling.

I photographed the unicorn at a forge just south of Croydon where there was a fabulous display of mythical creatures.

Black Lives Matter

Where to start?

I spent much of my career in antiracist education. We produced teaching materials which were going well in schools but were overtaken by the National Curriculum. We worked with children, especially in ‘all white’ areas, and with teachers, both longstanding practitioners, trainees and their trainers. We attended conferences and marches, and helped organise both. When I say ‘we’ I include colleagues and close friends from all ethnic minorities, ethnic majorities and political persuasions. All our work was, it would seem, for nothing. That, I think, sums up my own long term stance on the matter.

I could and should also mention that I am white, with all the privilege that includes, and that my best friend ever (met at uni) was black, of Caribbean origin. She died of cancer in 2005 and I was devastated. I valued her friendship and also her opinions on the world, including her views – personal, professional and political – on issues such as racism. Towards the end of her career she was the first black female professor of law in the University of the West Indies and on her retirement which was imminent, she hoped to work with UNHCR who were, I think, looking forward to her services. Sadly, that was not to be.

My last service to her was to act as her executor. One of her nieces, who inherited some money in her will, is a young black woman from Trinidad and is currently practising in medicine in New York. Slightly ironic, I suppose, in the way it connects me, at however much of a distance, with current events in both the pandemic and the protests. (I am not in touch with the young doctor, only with one of her aunts.)

When I was doing a postgraduate diploma in antiracist studies I wrote my thesis on literature in English (not in translation) by writers who were not from the obvious first world countries. Most of the work I considered was from authors in places like India, South Africa, The Caribbean, Bangladesh, etc. I argued that works like this should be included in the British school curriculum alongside our teaching materials on history and antiracism. My work was well received – and part of it was published in an educational magazine. Again, it would appear all the effort was wasted.

Not wasted for myself, of course. I read countless novels and poems that enriched my life, and helped inform me about the experience of people from other countries and cultures. And at the very least I am able to understand the current riots, arguments, etc. without having to do any further research.

Which is just as well, because all my notes including all references to sources went up in flames in our Portuguese fire. So no, I can’t recommend any specific books. Blame climate warming…

The protests are totally justified. Totally. No arguments. If there is state-condoned thuggery and violence, there will and should be protests. Even the violence of a tiny minority of protesters is explained by the way the protests were triggered. And of course the state will use that as a distraction from those same triggers. The protests elsewhere are heartening. There has been systemic racism and poor policing in countries such as UK, France and Australia. The current US riots, along with lockdown and the internet have brought about a world outpouring of rage which I can only applaud even whilst wishing it had happened decades earlier.

Toppling statues? I think they should have been toppled long ago and feel ashamed that in the twenty first century we feel able to glorify men who were involved in the slave trade. We would not welcome statues of Hitler, however much he did for things like German motorways. So yes, I think the statues should be removed if the person commemorated had a personal connection with slavery, and maybe if they didn’t, if ‘just’ their family (and their wealth) was involved the statues should either be taken to a museum or given a plaque or one of those display information boards. Yes, toppling a statue is a violent and ‘lawless’ act, but how would any of us feel and react if for example a present day murderer was honoured with a statue? Or someone like Jimmy Saville for his charitable work? And what do we think about people who broke Nazi laws? No, I am not comparing our governments to a Nazi regime, but there are points of similarity which cannot be ignored.

What can we do? All live matter, of course, but black lives are being treated as expendable in so many places. So our focus should be on those at present. In policing, in the effects of the pandemic, in education, and so on. There’s a useful petition you could sign: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/324092/signatures/new

You’ll have gathered that I have very ‘violent’ views on this. I am sad that my age and state of health stop me from participating in marches or any public protest. All I can do is write my blog and hope it gives either information or comfort to someone reading it.

As always, if you want to discuss the matter further I am here for comments or you can email me. I can probably dredge up a few titles and authors to talk about, but for now, scroll back in my blog to read in depth reviews of works on racism by modern Black British authors.

(The illustration is my current FB photo which is why it has a camera in the way…)

May reviews

TV and films

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Russell T Davies version)***** Absolutely gorgeous with lots of magical effects and slight twists on characterisation. BBC but I think it’s available to buy.

Valerian and the city of a thousand planets***** A re-watch. I love it. Lots of well done aliens and an underlying standard thriller plot with endearing main characters.

Science and Islam (BBC 4)***** I’ve watched one or two of this history of science series. Excellent. (I knew most of the history but my grasp of the science was shaky…)

Vera Series 3***** Still loving this – set in my native region with a quirky but extremely competent female detective.

Books

The brilliant non-fiction

Becoming Human: New Scientist Collection***** Excellent collection of articles about up to the minute research about evolution.

Pale Rider by Laura Spinney***** The Spanish flu of 1918 and how it changed the world. Excellent historical research. Stunningly relevant to our current pandemic even though it was written a couple of years ago.

Myths of Gender by Anne Fausto-Sterling***** As the author says:‘…an extended argument against lodging social difference in the body’. Fascinating account and critique of research into gender differences.

How Baking Works by James Morton*****
This really explains why we whisk, fold, etc. and how ingredients can be substituted. Kept for reference though I would prefer a hard copy.

The brilliant fiction:

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo*****Wonderful interweaving of black female lives in modern Britain. Amazingly good use of tense changes to underpin different periods and points of view. (And that’s something I never thought I’d say!) Well worth the Booker Prize!

A Carriage of Misjustice by Charlie Cochrane***** Vol 4 of the Lindenshaw series. As usual, I enjoyed the mystery and loved the dog, Campbell, who somehow manages to cement the relationship between the policeman and his teacher husband. A masterclass in how to juggle large numbers of suspects and witnesses – something I really needed for the book I was writing at the time.

Finders Keepers by N R Walker***** Heart warming story of two guys brought together by a dog (who gets lost) on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Thicker than water by Becca Seymour***** Thatch and Callen are shifters in law enforcement in Australia. Interesting characters and location.

The good:

You let me in by Lucy Clarke**** Psychological thriller with a very gripping plot but the final mystery had no real clues in story which I found disappointing. I guessed ‘whodunnit’ or rather ‘wasdoinit’, but the why was totally unclear until the last chapter.

Song for the Basilisk by Patrician Kilip**** Lovely story about music and magic with fascinating characters. However, too much purple prose with no breaks became hard to read.

The readable:

Thicker than Water by J D Kirk*** Sequel in the DCI Logan series. Well written and plotted but not as exciting as the first one. ‘Tartan noir…’

The poor and the dire:

Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg**
First in the Eve Ronin series. Poor world building and some unpleasant characters

Canis Falls Academy: Year One by Imani L Hawkins* Dire structure, characterisation, plot…..

And the abandoned: (Only one this month)

Sword Dance by A J Demas. A confusing Graeco-Roman/mediaeval Japanese world with fantasy and mm elements being introduced too slowly. I simply gave up.

Short stories

Not highly recommended but others might like both these:

Under the Law by JP Bowie*** More of a novella, perhaps. Tired tropes and unmemorable plot but the writing was competent and anyone who likes short mysteries with an mm focus might enjoy it.

Australia: a Romance Anthology. Various authors.***
OMG. I bought this because the profits went to Australian wildlife victims of the fires. Good value with a lot of stories, all but one of them het romance (and the mm one was a vampire tale). Too many were spin-offs from series but could be read stand-alone. However, I will never (?) complain about the amount of explicit sex in mm romances again. I am still reeling from the content of some of these! One or two really good pieces; all readable.

Fanfic

I frequently recommend Small_Hobbit and some of her collaborators on things like the Marylebone magazine. I do enjoy their writing but I think the main reason they keep cropping up here is that their work, as well as being good, is often accessible to readers who don’t share their fandoms. This month I also read a number of stories by Brumeier (another writer I like) but they all needed in depth knowledge of SGA for true enjoyment.

Five times Lucas met Pooh Bear and friends by Small_Hobbit***** (all you need to know is that Lucas, Adam, Ros and Harry are spies and that the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood sometimes stand in for Sherlock Holmes) https://archiveofourown.org/works/24352783

Welcome to Castle Elsinore https://archiveofourown.org/works/24004696 and On to March Ides Woods https://archiveofourown.org/works/24115366 *****by Small_Hobbit. Imagine a coach tour and people the staff and tourist groups with characters from Shakespeare, The Hobbit, and other classics. Short but powerful!

Reclaim (poem by okapi)**** https://archiveofourown.org/works/6848800/chapters/58468873

Lockdown (a poem for 2020)

The first thing
we noticed was the way the birds seemed to sing
louder, day by day. Then,
as the skies grew bluer and the sun invariably shone,
living under a flight path we inevitably noticed the planes had gone.
Traffic became something exciting when we occasionally heard it pass
(and not to be confused with the noise a neighbour made mowing the grass).
Ferns, made bold by the cleaner air, grew twice as high as before,
twining around the garden chairs and blocking the back door.
Yesterday a plane flew over and as we wondered
at the noise and the white trail, I pondered.
When we leave house and garden for a more usual way of living
Will we remember, and will we regret the softer way the birds sing?

Fictional towns


(from a photograph by Mihail Ribkin on Unsplash)

I have been irritated recently by the insertion of fictional towns into landscapes I know and love. I have just read two crime stories set in Northumberland, my home county, and in both cases the crimes were set in completely fictitious towns. I kept trying to work out which towns were actually being described (they weren’t) and that distracted me from the stories. (See April reviews, the post immediately before this one.)

I realise that it’s perfectly possible that the same thing happens with novels set in e.g. Australia or US and that I’m simply unaware of the fact. Residents of those countries might share my annoyance and anguish.

It isn’t that fictional towns are always a no-no. I have enjoyed two entire series set in fictional towns – Porthkennack, which is supposedly in Cornwall, where a group of writers have set their historical tales and their modern romances, and Trowchester, a town created by Alex Beecroft for Trowchester Blues. In both cases the town itself is brought to life with a lot of detail and an obvious love of the well-imagined place. I had no objection to Starsky and Hutch operating in Bay City rather than anywhere real. There are plenty of fictional towns out there functioning happily in my imagination as well as that of their creator.

However, when a town is used simply as a place where there is a generic police station, a generic hospital and a generic town hall, etc. I feel annoyed. Why can’t the detectives, victims, etc. go to the perfectly good police stations, hospitals, and so on in towns that do exist? Somehow, it seems rude to ignore their existence. And how have these modern towns sprung up in countryside where there are sparse populations, little or no industry, and no apparent historical foundation? I suspect a lazy desire to avoid having to research the actual centres of population in the region. Porthkennack has the fishing industry and tourism to sustain it. Trowchester is in busy middle England. In neither case do people refer to other local towns, only to London or regional centres such as Birmingham. They ‘exist’ in their own right and could easily be true.

I could, to be kind, assume the authors who upset me were trying not to associate crime with real places. But plenty of crime and horror stories take place in well known locations, just as they do in real life. So do romances and adventures. Even urban fantasy and science fiction. Nobody ever seems to complain that their town should not be used as a setting.

So for anyone out there thinking of creating a fictional town: give it some life, some depth, some believable history, some detailed description, etc. Think about why it might be where it is. Think about its history and its name. Think about who lives there, what jobs they do, where they shop… You don’t have to go quite as far as Marquez did in his creation of A Hundred Years of Solitude, but you do have to get me to believe in the place.

A warning: I know most of Britain and a lot of Europe quite well, and am likely to be disappointed and to some extent shocked when a town turns up in the middle of nowhere for no good reason!

Happy Valentine’s Day 2020

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and I intended to write a story for you. However, the plot bunny grew to stupid proportions and necessitated quite a bit of research so will not be ready for publication for some time. By the time I realised that, it was getting too late to write anything else. So, as I was about to add pdf versions of some of my work to my free fiction page I decided that would have to be my Valentine gift to you this year. People who have been following my posts for some time will be familiar with the works but at least can now download to read at their convenience and on any device. So I’ll post now for the sake of my Australian friends. Click on the free stuff tab and download anything you want to read, re-read or share! Enjoy!

November Reviews

Films and TV

Dublin Murders*****
I really enjoyed this, with the flawed detectives (well acted), the Dublin background and the story which reached a satisfactory ending but still left it open to the viewer to accept a paranormal explanation for some aspects of the events. One review I saw criticised the fact that the lead detective should not/would not have been involved because of his previous history but his eagerness to take the case and deceive his superiors was explored in great detail. I was disappointed to learn that much of the location filming was actually in or around Belfast…

Spiral Season 7*****
What can I say? My all-time favourite cop show. Season 7 didn’t disappoint. I love the ensemble cast, the views of lesser known parts of Paris, and the interesting exploration of the French police, judiciary and legal system.

Carnival Row Season 1*****
Gorgeous show. Fae and steampunk meet in an AU Victorian London. There’s a gripping plot with lots of nods to current issues such as immigration and racism, fabulous special effects, and, amazingly, Orlando Bloom can act. But then he was one of the people involved in making the film so perhaps he was better directed than usual? I really hope Season 2 doesn’t take for ever to arrive. I watched this on Amazon Prime, and sort of spread it out because I didn’t want it to end.

Wild China*****
Lovely series with a focus on wildlife but plenty of information about the various Chinese regions. Eye candy, yes, but intelligent eye candy that educates as well as entertaining.

Great Australian Railway Journeys*****
Michael Portillo, being his usual flamboyant self, introduces the viewer to Australia and links the various places and aspects of life via train journeys. He has done the same in UK and parts of Europe. If you liked those programmes you’d like these. And it’s a great way to learn more about Australia; I think even a lot of Australians would enjoy it, not just for the scenic rides but for the interesting interviews with Australians.

House of the Year (Grand Designs) ****
I mostly agreed with the judges, with one exception, the eventual winner. I found that house boring! I much preferred the ones that were completely eco-friendly or that merged into their surroundings.

The Accident****
Brit drama set in South Wales, where a combination of company greed, local council desperation and kids behaving recklessly lead to loss of life and an interesting (and grim) court case. Some excellent acting.

Cold Call****
Another Brit drama, where the wronged victim inches gradually into crime to retrieve her money. Good acting. And chilling information about how scams can work.

Gold Digger****
Yet another Brit drama, this time looking at an older woman who finds a young boyfriend to the shock and horror of her family. Good acting and interesting character development. However, it was quite slow, and I accidentally missed an episode but didn’t notice or find myself at all confused!

Goldstone***
An Australian film about a Native Australian detective. Some good acting and photography, and it was interesting to see David Wenham as a baddie. However, I gather it was a spin off from a series aired about ten years ago. I didn’t see that and I kept feeling I was missing fairly vital information. The immediate plot was fine, but there were mysterious references to the detective’s past, and his private life.

Books

The excellent and the highly recommended:

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco*****
A re-read, to go with the TV series. I will post a longer critique when the series is finished.

Rhapsody for Piano and Ghost by Z.A. Maxfield*****
A pianist finds himself falling for his used-to-be step brother. However, although this is a contemporary mm romance the most interesting characters are the ghosts who help the plot along and have an mm romantic (and possibly tragic) past themselves.

Skin After Skin by Jordan Castillo Price*****
This is a novel in the Psycops series. I’ve read all the rest but hadn’t come across the story of Crash, who is a minor character in the other novels. The book explores his past and gives the reader another view of Jacob and Victor, the main protagonists in the main series.

Tallowwood by NR Walker *****
A really thrilling detective mm novel where a Sydney detective is thrown together with an Indigenous Australian cop in a small town. Beautiful writing, too. I am now looking for other books by this author and have so far bought one. More will follow, I think.

A Litter of Bones by JD Kirk*****
A new series set in the Scottish Highlands. It’s a police thriller with lots of excitement as well as an interesting location. I might follow this detective.

Twice Shy by Sally Malcolm****
Pleasant contemporary mm romance in which teacher meets single dad. One of the protagonists has believable children which is always a plus.

Five Bloody Hearts by Joy Ellis****
The first volume in a new police procedural set in the north east fens. A gripping story and an interesting lead detective.

The Arrangement by Alex Jane****
A really heartwarming story in which friends push Gabriel and Nathaniel together. It loses a star because of poor proof reading.

The Replacement Husband by Eliot Grayson****
I really enjoyed the arranged marriage between Owen and Arthur, but found the world building less than stellar. I do think that if the main character is ‘Goddess Blessed’ and this affects their life and their future, the reader might be given an explanation.

The readable:

Silver Scars by Posy Roberts.***
A nice mm romance between two people with physical injuries and PTSD. However, although it was novel length, I found the writing rather repetitive and ‘padded’, and might have enjoyed it better if it hadn’t been written in present tense.

Bring Them Home by DS Butler***
This is another new police procedural set in Lincolnshire. The story was gripping enough but there was too much focus on procedure and the team seemed somewhat disjointed. I don’t think I’ll follow the series.

Survivor by TM Smith***
I enjoyed this story but thought it had poor structure. The author never seemed to make up their mind whether they were writing a thriller or an mm romance. Yes, you can cross genres to great effect, but there needs to be a main focus and that was missing here.

The Greater Freedom by Alya Mooro***

A book about feminism written from the perspective of an Arab woman. I’ll look at it in greater depth in a later post.

And the poor:

Dragonslayer by Resa Nelson**
I read the whole story and found it interesting and gripping enough, but won’t be following this series about Astrid, a smith, and her lover DiStephan in this AU mediaeval world. There were a lot of plot holes and I didn’t think the world building was adequate.

I can see you by Michael Leese**
How on earth can someone write a boring serial killer/spy story? This author managed it. I think the main problem was the way the story was structured so that the reader had too much knowledge before the protagonists did.

Short stories

The recommended:

Vlarian Oath by MistressKat***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/21288197
I reviewed this in an earlier post. Gorgeous sci fi with an ff romance at its heart. An original story written for a story challenge that spanned original work and fanfic.

Trolling for Cupcakes by JL Merrow****
Short sweet ff ‘take’ on the tale of Three Billy Goats Gruff. Too short to get five stars. (I don’t mean that really short stories can’t get five stars, but that this one was too short for me.)

The readable:

A World Apart by Mel Gough***
Ben, a cop meets Donnie when the latter is wrongly arrested. Quite a nice story but for my taste there was too much focus on injury and medical care.

And the forgettable:

Cops, Cakes and Coffee by Sara York**
Fortunately short story. Drake is a cop and Adam is a baker, hence the title. It’s PWP (plot what plot in case you don’t know the genre) and has too much sex for too little reason.

Fanfiction

I read more Professionals Big Bang fic but there was nothing further I’d recommend to readers who are not already part of the fandom.

I also read more contributions to the Lewis FrightFest Challenge. I’d like to recommend:
In the forests of the night by greenapricot***** It isn’t actually frightening at all but is a lovely look at legends about shapeshifters and is set in Northumberland. https://archiveofourown.org/works/21281798

In other fandoms:

The Monster Next Door by Brumeier***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/21245204
This is a great short story written for a Halloween MonsterFest. I now want the author to write the story from the point of view of the cat…
It’s ostensibly a crossover between SGA and Labyrinth but takes off in a direction all its own.

I also found some beautiful poetry by silverr, based on folk tales, legends and art:
Wild of Branch and Root***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/14570421
The Black House***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/1088288