Short stories read in March

The wallflowers have been in full bloom since early March. Rays of sunshine even on dull days!

I didn’t read any fanfiction worth mentioning last month though I downloaded a lot to read later. So this concludes my reviews for March.

As usual, I’m giving the best shorts four stars rather than five because I would have liked more lengthy explorations of the themes. Short stories have to hit a higher bar, for me, to get five stars.

The very good:

Bad, Dad and Dangerous by four authors. Rhys Ford (Wolf at first Sight), Jen Moffat (Kismet and Cadavers), TA Moore (Elfshot) and Bru Baker (Monster Hall Pass)**** I enjoyed all four stories and liked TA Moore and Rhys Ford best. All four have shifter fathers trying to have a life of their own despite needing to protect their children. Recommended for anyone who likes stories about shifters and appreciates some family life in their tales.

Blitz by Charlie Cochrane.**** Set in the London blitz. A delightful free short story from Charlie (on her website) embodying mm romance and world war two.

The readable:

Capital Crimes by various authors*** All the stories were about crimes that took place in capital cities. I liked Charlie Cochrane’s Game of Chance and The Drag Queen wore red by JL Merrow more than the rest but probably only because of already knowing the characters from the series. Karma by Alan McDermott was probably the best story in the collection but I couldn’t quite see how it related to the collection title. The rest were not inspiring.

Zikora by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi*** Reflections and discussions around childbirth, circumcision, marriage… Adichi is a good writer but I didn’t find much to inspire me in this story. However, I’m probably not the target audience. Also, I think her writing style demands long and involved storylines, not short glimpses of life.

The Poison Within by Kasia Bacon *** This was too short to get a real sense of the Order Universe where it takes place. It left me wondering whether I would enjoy the main series, and whether I would ever hear anything more about the protagonists. Disappointing, particularly because I approached it as an introduction to the writer’s work.

Abandoned

Wings of Change ed Lyn Worthen. YA stories about dragons. I read a couple of these and thought they’d probably appeal to teenagers. But not to me.

Rainbow Briefs ed Kira Harp. YA – I didn’t bother after the editor’s intro which made it very clear that these stories were for teens.

There is probably nothing to criticise about these two anthologies. It’s just that life’s too short to read a lot of work in a genre you don’t really enjoy!

Novels and longer books in March

I photographed the pear tree, just about to produce blossom, on the same afternoon as the flowering currant in my previous post. I hope this proves that the sky was in fact blue. Since then we’ve had snowstorms so I hope the blossom survives.

I seem to have read a lot in March. I am trying hard to get through all the backlog on my Kindle. I might manage it in April, at which point I will need to upload all the books I bought from other sites.

The excellent:

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison*****(+) I adored this. A young prince inherits the throne when all the family are killed in what seems to be an accident. He is the child of an elf father (the emperor) and a goblin mother (an arranged political marriage). When he becomes emperor of an elvish empire the effects are immediate and far reaching. As well as coping with his unexpected position he has to find out why his father and brothers died, and find a wife who will be politically and personally acceptable. A fascinating story and a wonderful character study. I wanted more but I don’t think there’s a sequel. Highly recommended.

Romancing the Ugly Duckling by Clare London ***** A delightful romance between a stylist totally out of his depth on a Scottish island, and a man who has fled not just London but the mainland to nurse his hurt over his treatment by his family. The story has humour, excitement, and some excellent minor characters.

It takes two to tumble by Cat Sebastian***** Lovely romance set in nineteenth century lake district. Ben is a young vicar who falls in love with Phillip, a widowed naval captain with children. The children almost steal the show, and the locals are a fascinating bunch.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde***** This was a gorgeous novel with a very slow burn romance between Calvin and Lucy. The story deals with issues of race in the southern states, and much of the focus iis on Calvin’s son, Justin and his friendship with Pete, a boy from an abusive home who has been befriended by Lucy, a doctor. Friendship is a strong part of the theme, as are the miscegenation laws of the state. The romance has to be put on hold until the laws are overturned, and the ending is hopeful but I would have liked a little more about what the future held.

The very good:

Bay City Paranormal Investigations Box Set by Ally Blue**** This set of stories, based round the characters who run the BCPI team, is absorbing and well written. There are various love interests, both mf and mm, though perhaps too much explicit sex for my taste. I was slightly disappointed by the fact that the major threat the team was investigating was not in fact something paranormal but some kind of sci fi alien invasion. This was never fully explained. They contained the threat – for now – but I would have liked more closure and more acknowledgement of the source of the danger. The conflation of paranormal and alien was slightly off-putting.

A Midwife’s Tale. The life of Martha Ballard based on her diary 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (New England)**** This was an interesting read. It combines a detailed exploration of Martha’s diary with facts and figures about medicine, midwifery and the role of women in New England rural society during her lifetime. As well as being a portrait of a fascinating woman (and her family), it deals with issues such as feminism, social bonds, local justice and the gradual removal of medical matters from the hands of experienced members of the community to male ‘experts’. I was slightly annoyed by the tendency of the author to repeat what had just been said in the diary extracts. Presumably she did not trust her readers to concentrate on the content.

Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries (vol 1) by Ashley Gardner**** The boxed set contains three novels and two short stories. Captain Lacey is back in London after the Napoleonic wars, and is involved in a number of criminal investigations. His old sergeant is a Bow Street Runner and is able to offer some help. Early nineteenth century London is portrayed in great detail. Whilst I found the books interesting I did not altogether empathise with the main characters and will probably not buy volume 2. However, if you like historical crime stories, I can recommend the series.

Sea Kissed by Spencer Spears**** A young man is washed up on the shore with no idea of his identity or how he came to be half drowned. He is found by a recluse who is initially just glad not to be recognised. Their stories are gradually revealed, to them as well as the reader. The blurb suggested this was an mm retelling of The Little Mermaid, but it was a very long way from the original, particularly because the recluse did not really fit the role of the prince . However, it did have a fairy tale quality, albeit with a thoroughly modern happy ending.

Lessons in Solving the Wrong Problem by Charlie Cochrane**** A nice new problem for the Cambridge Fellows, though as usual, I prefer the longer novels to the novellas so this didn’t make five stars. I did enjoy revisiting Jonty’s family from the earlier books in the series. Recommended to all who are following Jonty and Orlando, but for anyone who isn’t, the story might not make a great deal of sense since it references other cases and events without going into detail.

Close to the Bone by Kendra Elliot**** (Widow’s Island 1) I prefer the longer Mercy Kilpatrick books by this author so, like Charlie Cochrane’s book, this doesn’t achieve five stars. Elliot is a good writer and her mysteries are well crafted. I liked the setting, with the islands just off the coastal resort being the venue for death as well as romance.

Cowboys don’t ride unicorns by Tara Lain**** A cowboy/bull rider meets an interior designer when the latter comes to the stud farm for a short holiday. The attraction of opposites is immediate and intriguing. There is plenty of angst, not least over the dangers of bull riding and the homophobia of the cowboy’s father.

The Custodian of Marvels (Fall of the Gaslight Empire 3) by Rod Duncan**** This final volume in the series was just as exciting as books 1 and 2 but I felt the end was rushed and then there was the kind of glossary as an epilogue. That gave a potted history of events, and distanced me from the actual ending. Altogether I enjoyed this steampunk adventure but I preferred the first two volumes.

The readable:

All Systems Red (Murderbot 1) by Matha Wells*** I read rave reviews of this but was disappointed. It was well written and the author seems to get into the ‘brain’ of the robot lead character. But I felt the plot was too slight and predictable (murder and mayhem on a planet during exploration) and I don’t feel inclined to follow the series. I think the use of a robot as narrator is an excellent idea, but I prefer my sci fi with more depth to the story and the world as well as the characters.

Stranger in the Room (Keye Street 2) by Amanda Kyle Williams *** This was a well written but improbable crime story centred round the cousin of the lead detective. Because of her previous addiction and other problems, the police have not believed the cousin’s reports of a stalker. I would (like the detective) have liked more clues. There are deaths and horrors that culminate in a threat to both cousin and detective.

City of Perfect Moments by Annabeth Chatwin*** This is a YA mm romance – teens meet (and bond) and then face hostility for being weird rather than being gay – it’s well written but not my kind of book. If any reader has a teen who has problems with their sexuality it might be a good choice.

Winter Solstice in St Nacho’s by ZA Maxfield*** Another well written mm romance in the St Nacho series. This one spent most of the time following recovery from addiction which I’m sure is a worthy issue but not one I particularly wanted to read about. I was looking for an escapist romance and got a rather heavy and angst-ridden one. I enjoy the overall concept of the series, that the town draws those who will benefit from being there.

Haunted by Irene Preston and Liv Rancourt *** This turned out to be a short prequel and I was quite disappointed. A sceptical TV ghost hunter meets an insurance guy who has left the police force because of his reaction to what could be ghosts. A great concept, but this was too short to explore the characters properly, and the investigation was also too brief. I probably won’t buy the sequels in case they’re equally brief and unsatisfying.

Spellbreaker by Charlie M Holmberg*** Like Paper Magic by the same author, this story had a really fascinating and detailed magic system but this was combined with flat characters and plot. Elsie could be a good heroine but was never properly developed. Bacchus was an interesting character and I assume the pair will combine their skills in future volumes. However, I won’t be reading about them.

Next to Disappear by Malcolm Richards *** (Emily Swanson series) The crime in this novel is based on a true story about psychiatric treatment but amateur detectives Emily and Jerome are not very believable. Nor is the way Emily is first drawn into the investigation. I will not be following the series.

The Same Breath by Gregory Ashe*** A fairly good mm romantic thriller set in Utah against a background of Mormon upbringing. It was not as good as Pretty Pretty Boys, and I read it because I was waiting for the sequel to that. Tean is a wildlife vet and has to help Jem find out what has happened to his brother who has been investigating ecological damage.

The poor:

The Snowdonia Killings by Simon McCleave** I was looking forward to a thriller set in North Wales but the story was boring, about unlikeable characters, and was padded with unnecessary info dumps about Welsh history and legends.

A Light Amongst Shadows by Kelly York and Rowan Allwood ** This couldn’t make its mind up. Was it a ghost story? A school story? An mm romance? It was mostly unpleasant and was told in a style that didn’t quite match the intended Victorian England setting.

And the abandoned:

The Soul Killer by Ross Greenwood. When the tale switched from the killer’s life story (not a trope I enjoy) to a very boring detective I gave up.

Cathedral of Lies by John Pye. The blurb suggests the reader might solve the puzzle for themselves after the end of the book. So, as I don’t really play armchair detective games, I didn’t really start reading.

Confessions of a Curious Bookseller by Elizabeth Green. There were letters and possibly diary entries. There were a lot of italics which I find hard to read when they last for pages and pages. There was no ‘hook’ to interest me in whatever the story might have been about.

March viewing

It was a glorious spring day when I took this photograph and the sky was in fact a wonderful shade of blue. My camera disagreed. All attempts to restore the colour using e.g. Photoshop merely resulted in poorer colour for the flowering currant and the forsythia behind it. So you’ll have to imagine the blue.

Only one five star programme this month.

The Great Pottery Throwdown***** My comfort zone on Sunday evenings. I really enjoyed watching the competitors and second guessing who would win (I was usually right). I also learnt a lot about pottery, both the technical aspects and decorative techniques. A lovely series with an underlying educational focus. I think it was really pleasing that the winner was coincidentally an NHS nurse.

Then there are the ones I enjoyed.

Chris Packham: Aspergers and me**** I enjoyed hearing about Packham’s voyage of self discovery. It was not, of course, like that of my grandson. All people on the autistic spectrum are different, as are the rest of us! I would like people to stop referring to Aspergers – partly for that reason. Autism covers a wide range of things, and I don’t think separating one section of people with autism is very helpful. But if it keeps Packham happy, that’s his decision, not mine.

All the sins Season 2**** Finnish noir. I liked season 1 and wondered whether the fact that season 2 was a kind of prequel would spoil it. It didn’t. The focus on the religious minority cult was fascinating all over again. I would, however, have liked a little more about society in Finland in general, to make comparisons that I’m sure were clear to the original target audience.

Bloodlands**** Another thriller set in Belfast. Irish noir? I quite like James Nesbitt so I enjoyed the series. I’m not sure it will sell well outside UK unless accompanied by a manual about the N.Irish ‘troubles’.

The Romantics and Us with Simon Schama**** An excellent set of programmes exploring the art of the Romantic movement. I particularly liked the way Schama linked the art, music and poetry to the politics of the time. I certainly ended up viewing some of the work from a new perspective. I did want another programme, to at least mention all the other creators who weren’t mentioned.

And the ones I at least watched to the end.

Miss World 1970: Beauty Queens and Bedlam*** An interesting look at the beauty queen world and the various attacks on the entire concept as well as the later lives of some of the participants. It didn’t entirely hold my interest and I found myself multi-tasking, but it highlighted a lot of things that were not at all clear in 1970 when I watched the news coverage in real time.

Man in Room 301*** Another Finnish noir. This time, I got fed up quite quickly with the flashbacks and the obvious red herrings, but stuck with it to find out what would happen in the end. Not really a thriller in the normal sense of the word, just a very sad look at some horrible family dynamics.

Unforgotten Seasons 3 and 4 *** I hadn’t seen Seasons 1 and 2 and by the time the series was recommended I think I only just caught Season 3. I liked the lead detectives and the format of one case per season. However, Season 4 was depressing, particularly the ending, and I was also slightly irritated at the way the two seasons followed the same pattern: four main suspects with a gradual untangling of their various stories and viewpoinst. If there’s a Season 5 I probably won’t bother.

As usual, there were a couple I abandoned

Grace (John Simm). Highly improbable – both cast and story. I watch a lot of cop shows and this one really didn’t make the grade for me.

Between the lines. I remember enjoying this first time around and we thought we’d try again but everything seemed very dated plus the film aspect ratio has changed. I’ve noticed this in other older films/series but they have to be better than this for me to ignore it.

I apologise for not having managed to make a note of the various channels and catch-up availability this month. I can, however, say that none of the above were on Sky (which we don’t have) or Sky Arts (which doesn’t have a catch up service for non-Sky customers).

Finally, February Fanfiction

I read a lot of fanfiction in February.

First, one of my favourite authors, Brumeier. All these stories get four stars (and kudos) – not five because they aren’t quite long enough to satisfy my cravings. There is a background mm focus but no explicit sex.

Call back (SGA AU) https://archiveofourown.org/works/28968840

Far Better Things (SGA/Brokenwood Mysteries crime crossover) http://archiveofourown.org/works/23419876

Fullwood Mysteries: The Janus Treasure (SGA/Brokenwood) https://archiveofourown.org/works/29093673?

I will try to fix you (H5O) https://archiveofourown.org/works/29011548

Hawaii’s Night Marchers (H5O/SGA crossover)  http://archiveofourown.org/works/5008171  

Second, another favourite, Small Hobbit (and her friend/collaborator Okapi). Again, four stars for the same reasons. Incidentally, these are all gen fics i.e. there is no sexual content of any kind.

Tigger Holmes and the Case of the Shrunken Prince (Sherlock Holmes/Winnie the Pooh) https://archiveofourown.org/works/29615169

An absence of eggs (Castlevania – cartoon) https://archiveofourown.org/works/28695294

This makes 1000 works on AO3 by this author – though admittedly a lot of the works are drabbles. So as a gift in honour of the occasion, Okapi wrote the following:

The Singing Scheherazade https://holmes-minor.dreamwidth.org/184195.html

I was directed to this next m/f fic by a friend – not a fandom I’d ever have thought about though I love the series.

The great farce of love by saturni_stellis**** (Fawlty Towers) https://archiveofourown.org/collections/chocolatebox2021/works/28878861

and to this brief but delightful fic (no sexual content)

The Return of Pestilence by LilithReisender ****(Good Omens) https://archiveofourown.org/works/23172622

Last, but by no means least, another friend wrote this for yet another friend in the Lewis fandom. For anyone who doesn’t know (and it might not be obvious to non-Brits), the actor who plays Hathaway in Lewis has recently upset a lot of his fans by being extremely politically active on the far right. The author of this short story has the character in the show interview the real life persona… The result should bring comfort to those who (like me) dislike Fox’s politics and love Hathaway.

Foxhole by Fiorenza_a**** https://archiveofourown.org/works/29500569

Some great short stories and some abandoned reading

For once I can highly recommend all the short stories I found in February!

I watched Clare London reading her own mm stories on YouTube. The stories were very short and sweet – perfect for a brief retreat from real life. It was really good to have the author reading them and to see her face – I don’t often listen to audiobooks but these were delightful, mostly because of the feeling of closeness to the author. So five stars to the whole set!

Clare London on YouTube*****

BAH HUMBUG!  https://youtu.be/EFHdU6MY7iU
ONE OF THOSE DAYS  https://youtu.be/U7Co-6Fysfg
A NUMBERS GAME  https://youtu.be/h_J-YM7q3SU
COOKIES  https://youtu.be/Z3O5qNj8fGQ
SALSA  https://youtu.be/bfK9PwQkkOk

I also very much enjoyed: My Lonely Valentine by Jackie Keswick ***** The story centres round a misunderstanding about a ring on Valentine’s Day and was lovely.  

I abandoned three books in February. As usual, I must stress that since I only read a chapter (if that), this in no way reflects on the writing ability of the author, just on my personal taste. I hope this gives you both some idea of my preferences and also some flavour of the stories for those who might enjoy them – they were all perfectly well written.

Purrfect Murder (The Mysteries of Max bk 1) by Nic Saint

This seemed to be a cat as detective and I was disbelieving and irritated as soon as I realised the cat was going to talk to their detective partner. I enjoy animal stories (e.g. Watership down) and I like shifter stories. I quite like magical animals. Talking but otherwise non-magical animals, not so much. I believe the series is one of cosy mysteries and it might appeal to some of you.

Impossibly Fond by Tanya Chris

I have very little idea of where the plot was going. I just know there were far too many magical elements all introduced at the beginning and I felt overwhelmed. It appears to be a humorous story about a fledgling wizard. I suspect that for me, magic and humour don’t often mix well.

Don’t ever forget by MatthewFarrell

This crime story managed to confuse me almost straight away with far too many different points of view. It also annoyed me when the author described someone of 65 as old. I know 65 isn’t exactly young, but the general idea seemed to be that someone that age would inevitably be senile and in need of constant care. Rather than continue to lose my temper, I gave up.

Easy cooking

I found a picture of mixed fruit online somewhere ages ago and Photoshopped it a lot.

Easy cooking and baking using mince and fruit to provide a series of meals.

To be honest, I find this easier than using convenience foods – less time spent reading lists of ingredients and instructions. Less time, too, finding stuff in the supermarket or online. Just make sure you have the basics in pantry, fridge, etc. Then, knowing you don’t have to weigh, measure, etc. you can go ahead and create basic dishes without much need to think once you’ve done it a couple of times.

Basic mince

I usually cook a big batch of this. Some goes in the fridge for meals later in the week and some goes in the frezzer for easy meals in the future but remember to thaw it properly or you’ll have lumps of semi frozen mince in your dinner.

Quantities are flexible.

Beef mince. This is my default but the same things can be done with lamb or pork mince, or with Quorn mince for vegetarians.

Add all or most of the following:

*Chopped tomatoes. Tinned are best but if you have some fresh tomatoes at their last gasp in your kitchen just add them as well.

*Chopped onions. I recommend wearing glasses (even if you don’t need glasses) to prevent tears.

*Chopped mushrooms (fresh or tinned).

*Chopped sweet peppers – any colour.

Again, quantities are flexible.

Also add:

*Herbs, fresh and/or dried. I like any fresh herbs but also like Italian seasoning and Herbes de Provence. Choose your herbs according to your own tastes and what’s available but try to stick to just one or two or they will drown each other.

*Seasoning. I add salt, black pepper and smoked paprika. I don’t add chili etc.at this stage because I don’t want ‘heat’ for all the uses

Throw in:

Anything you happen to want to use up e.g. leftover gravy or small amounts of leftover cooked vegetables.

Start by softening the onion in oil (any) in a large pan.

Add the mince and brown, stirring to prevent burning, then add everything else.

You might need more liquid. You can add any or all of: water, wine, a splash of wine vinegar, or the liquid from e.g. a tin of chopped mushrooms. Only add enough to prevent sticking but have some more handy just in case.

Bring to the boil, stirring. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes.

That’s it. Now you can divide it into smaller batches for refrigerating or freezing once it’s cool.

Use with:

*pasta of any kind (spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, canelloni, etc.). Serve with black pepper and grated cheese – I like a mixture of cheddar and parmesan.

*pancakes (UK type) – stuff them and grate cheese on top then melt the cheese. NB if you make the pancakes fresh and grill or microwave them once the cheese is on, you don’t need to reheat the mince. It will heat nicely inside the pancakes.

*stuffed vegetables e.g. sweet peppers, marrow – top with cheese or breadcrumbs (steam the veg first then stuff and bake for half an hour)

*with a suet crust

*with a topping of mashed potato/sweet pototo/swede

*with rice – top with cream

For some of the above dishes you can add extra seasonings such as chili flakes, harissa paste, and whatever extra veg you have around e.g. leftover peas/beans. You can top dishes with grated cheese, breadcrumbs or cream.

Ringing the changes gives you the possibility of a lot of different dishes all from the same original pan of mince.

There’s something very satisfying in knowing you have the basis of a lot of meals from one fairly easy and inexpensive beginning.

Basic baked fruit

For this you can use any amount of fresh apples/pears and any variety. But don’t use cooking apples because they ‘fall’ during cooking and give a totally different texture. You can mix apples and pears.

Core the fruit and chop into thinnish slices. Don’t peel but remove stems while you’re coring.

Add sultanas, sugar (brown is nice but not essential) and some spices – cinnamon and nutmeg work well but if all you’ve got is a jar of allspice, use that. Ginger is a welcome addition, too.

Add some fruit juice (I usually have fresh orange juice in the fridge but apple would also be good) and a tablespoon of cornflour and mix gently, trying not to break up the fruit slices too much. Don’t go mad with the liquid. If you have no fruit juice use a small amount of water.

Cover and bake in a hot oven for about three quarters of an hour. I use a pyrex dish with a foil lid. Remove the lid and carry on baking for another fifteen minutes. The fruit will be soft and the liquid will be thickened.

You can eat this hot or cold with cream, custard or ice cream, or you can use it to make a strudel using bought filo pastry. Once you’ve made the strudel you should brush the top with milk, sprinkle with sugar and bake for about half an hour by which time the fruit filling will have had an hour altogether and will have changed a little.

So that’s at least three desserts from one lot of prep (plus the enormous effort of wrapping the fruit in filo pastry…)

You can also bake peaches, nectarines, plums and fresh figs the same way but I don’t add sultanas and I do tend to add alcohol (Amaretto is good). I halve these fruits instead of slicing them. Those pretty red plums that seem determined to stay as hard as bullets in the fruit bowl do very well with this treatment. Again, a choice of cream, custard or ice cream rings the changes and you can eat them hot or chilled. If you feel lazy you can refrain from stoning the fruit and let people take the stones out once they are served.

Enjoy! And use the time and mental energy you save to do something rewarding!

Novels I really enjoyed in February

Last month’s novels were unusual in that some were extremely good, and others (which I will review later) I abandoned. For once, there were no merely good, poor, or dire books and I can really recommend all the following:

A Hope Divided (The Loyal League 2) by Alyssa Cole*****

This was fascinating. It explored aspects of the American Civil War that certainly never reached those of us who were not American. The love story of Marlie and Ewan is set against life in the confederate south. Marlie is the ‘free black’ daughter of an estate owner with an interest in medicine, and Ewan is a Unionist intelligence officer with scruples about his success. Their slow-growing romance highlights all kinds of questions of morality and identity. A really lovely book and extremely well written. The Loyal League books are on the same theme but are not a series so don’t hesitate to read this.

Other Half by Jordan Castillo Price*****

I was always going to love this, because I feel as if Vic and Jacob are old friends by now. They actually get married in this twelfth volume in the series (not counting sundry shorts) but of course they can’t do things in a normal fashion and the wedding is only part of an investigation. I enjoyed getting to know more of Jacob’s family, and it was interesting, too, to see the couple outside their Chicago city comfort zone. Highly recommended for those who enjoy ghosts with their crime stories, but you really need to read the Psycops series in sequence.

Returning Home by A.M. Rose*****

I started this shifter story without any great expectations because I saw from the blurb that it was set in the Omegaverse. However, I was soon drawn into the plot and absolutely loved the main characters, Reed and Jax. I really didn’t want the book to end. It was a standalone, so we got a happy conclusion despite some nail-biting moments. I was interested to see that the ‘author’ is in fact two people, who previously wrote fanfiction together. I think I know who they are and if so, I enjoyed their fanfiction, too.

Billy and the Beast by Eli Easton*****

This was a fabulous retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with a modern setting, some actual crime (apart from the theft of the rose) and an mm romance. Billy and Aaron are fascinating characters and I thoroughly enjoyed their story. Anyone who likes a modern twist on fairy tales would enjoy this.

Love by Chance by Blake Allwood****

This was a fun read, with an mm romance set in the catering industry. Enough research went into that to give the story a really solid background and a lot of interest outside the central love story. The minor characters were well developed which is always a plus for a book that is ‘just’ a love story. A contemporary romance novel with a lot of ‘extra’ to offer.

Magnificent Devices Books 5 and 6 by Shelley Adina. Novellas ****

Another publication I was looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. This steampunk series with strong female main characters and quirky crime is delightful. At the end of volume 6 we got a glimpse of romance for ‘the lady’ whose adventures took up the first four volumes. These two long novellas concentrated on two of her wards and I look forward to volumes 7 and 8 when I finish my self-imposed moratorium on book buying.

A Place of Execution by Val McDermid****

I like this author’s writing, and was intrigued by a story that took place near where I live (The Peak District). It also took place over my own adult lifetime here so felt particularly personal with references to events like the Moors Murders. The final icing on the ‘cake’ was the use of my father’s name for one of the detectives. However, I did not empathise with any of the main characters so found myself less than invested in the final outcome. Still, it’s a clever and fascinating detective story, beautifully written as usual.

The Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd****

The plot was so intriguing I found myself thinking about it whilst doing other things, but I didn’t like the style. Ackroyd jumps from one p.o.v to another, using different techniques for each to tell the tale of a serial killer in Victorian London. Clever, but jarring. The story is not that of Jack the Ripper, but it has echoes of it and the location and society are brought vividly to life. The story is chilling, as the identity of the murderer begins to dawn on the reader, and the whole effect is deftly manipulated and written. It stayed with me for some time and I would recommend it to anyone wanting a ‘different’ crime story, historical or otherwise. For me personally, I would prefer Ackroyd to stick to non-fiction which I think he does superbly.

The daffodils in the header picture are currently flowering in our garden.

Smashwords Read an E book week sale

My Living Fae series (urban fantasy/mm romance/family saga, four volumes) and my Skilled Investigators series (fantasy/crime with an mm subplot, six volumes) are half price on Smashwords this week (7-13 March). That’s $1.49 each for full length novels. The same 50% reduction applies to my twisted legend novellas (Lord of Shalott, and Silkskin and the Forest Dwellers) and collections of sci fi and fantasy short stories (Beating Hearts and Three Legends) which are on sale at $0.99 each. No need for coupons – these will be automatically provided at checkout.

You can read an interview with me (with pre-covid short hair) and see all my books here:

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/jaymountney

You can also find buylinks for individual books on my buylinks page (see the tabs above the banner).

February viewing

The image is an enlarged version of the social media icon ‘rainbow eye’ by ‘celticfire’

Documentaries:

Stonehenge: the lost circle revealed***** BBC2 with Prof Alice Roberts. This is on iPlayer for eleven months and is well worth watching if you’re in UK. A new approach to Stonehenge suggests the source of the inner circle of bluestones in West Wales. Roberts on archaeology is always worth listening to.

Monty Don’s American Gardens***** BBC2.The series is probably available on iPlayer. This was a kind of eye candy with beautiful gardens, but it was also a fascinating tour of the US seen through some of its most famous gardens.

Adrian Dunbar’s Coastal Ireland***** The two programmes were on Channel 5 so will be available on My5. Dunbar makes a good presenter. He is very relaxed, clearly loves his country, and listens carefully to the local experts he interviews. I’m looking forward to the new season of Line of Duty later in March.

Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure: Dementia Choir at Christmas**** On BBC. Last year Vicky took us through a fascinating experiment to see how music affected dementia sufferers, particularly those who were comparatively young. This was a follow up programme and although I cried and loved what happened I was disappointed that we only saw a couple of the original singers. That suggests the rest might have deteriorated beyond interview, but it would have been good to know something about them. Another brilliant presenter whose return to acting in Line of Duty will be welcomed (along with Martin Compston whose work I enjoyed last month in the dram Traces).

Drama

Deliver Us***** Danish crime – Scandi very noir on All4. A group of people in a small town wants to rid the community of a psycopath. The series explores the way people can descend into irrational or hateful actions when sufficiently provoked. Fascinating, dark, and gripping.

The Fall*****Irish (Belfast) crime, about as noir as the Scandi stuff. I was impressed by the filming and direction, especially the way scenes were cut so as to mirror the behaviour of the criminal and the police e.g. in bedroom, bathroom, car, etc. I was less impressed by Gillian Anderson as the lead investigator and thought she was badly cast, too glamorous for a UK detective superintendent. I don’t usually like crime stories where I know the identity of the criminal (in this case a serial killer) from near the beginning, but this totally hooked me. All three seasons of it (and yes, three seasons’ worth of one crime) are available on BBC iPlayer.  

Bullets**** Finnish crime (terrorism and intelligence), also on All4. This is, if anything, even darker than the two other series mentioned. It is set in Finland with Finnish actors, but with some characters from Chechen and Russia. There are, for that reason, some sections in English though the bulk of the series needs subtitles. The filming is very dark but then it’s winter in Helsinki. It is also quite gory and at times I had to close my eyes.

Death in Paradise. Series 10.**** A relaxing change from all the Euro-noir! Death in Paradise is cosy mysteries with gentle humour set in glorious Caribbean surroundings. I like the way that although there is a seconded British policeman in charge of the station, Caribbean characters get plenty of opportunity to make their mark, especially as competent police as well as friendly locals. The deaths in question occur near the beginning of each episode and there is the comfort of knowing all will be solved within the hour. This season, there was a two-episode mystery which felt quite strange.

Music

Johnny Cash: Live in concert***** I really enjoyed this. We watched it on Channel 5 but there are similar shows all over the place. I have most of the songs on Spotify and on CD but it was great seeing them sung live.