All my August reviews at once

August colour in a local park

This month has so far been totally rubbish and I have not managed any posts. I went to a Writers’ Meet in Southampton the first weekend and promptly caught Covid despite my best efforts. Well, you can’t wear a mask at a dinner while eating… I am only just recovering, and on Saturday I am setting out for the Lake District for a writers’ retreat which should prove both beneficial and productive! Please, everybody, cross your fingers, send good vibes, or whatever. I have simply put all my August reviews in this one post. Despite being part of a panel at the meet on links between fanfiction and original writing, I did not read any fanfiction in August.

TV

Stranger Things Season 4***** NetflixThe trouble is we now have to wait till possibly autumn 23 or even early 24 for the next season… This ‘retro horror thriller’ with loads of brilliant teenage actors is totally gripping and I feel as if I actually know these people!!

Paul Simon: Under African Skies***** Excellent film exploring the making of the Graceland album and then the backlash from UN and ANC over sanction breaking and the eventual ‘rehabilitation’ by Nelson Mandela. Followed by the Simon and Garfunkel Concert in Central Park. All on Sky Arts so I have no idea whether they are still available – they aren’t to me because I don’t subscribe to Sky. (Sky Arts is on Freeview.)

Midnight Mass **** Netflix A horror story based around religious beliefs. Starts gently and ends up seriously gruesome. Any other comments would risk spoilers. There are 7 episodes and after each I spent ages wondering what was going to happen and who would survive which is a sign of some good writing and direction.

Red Rose**** BBC 1. Horror set not far from where I live. Teenagers are drawn into a weird scenario via mobile phone apps. Eventually their entire families are involved. Good, with excellent acting, but we found the ending rather rushed and could have done with one further episode to clarify a few things.

Sean of the Dead (rewatch)*** (Can’t remember which channel.) Husband loves it. I like it least of this ‘cornetto’ set of films. It’s well done and clever but I keep getting distracted (every time) and multi-tasking e.g. reading or emails so clearly, unlike Hot Fuzz (my favourite) and The World’s End, it doesn’t completely hook me.

The Sandman Netflix. Abandoned. I prefer my main characters to be mortal and we weren’t keen on the film direction either.

Hide and Seek Channel 4. Abandoned. We tried this Ukrainian thriller but it was made using a lot of dark backgrounds so was hard to watch, and the detective who was meant to be something like Saga in The Bridge was a pale copy.

Books

Familiar authors

The highly recommended:

Fang’d by Vin George***** I really loved this. I don’t always enjoy vampire stories but I trusted the writer so… And then – there was that wonderful world of various paranormals interacting and explaining themselves to each other. I’m looking forward to the next in the series, with more worldbuilding and further adventures for some of the other characters.

Into Deep Waters by Kaje Harper**** Interesting and occasionally exciting mm romance following two men from the start of WWII in the US navy through to old age. Superb depiction of war at sea, then well researched references to the various stages in their lives as gay couples gradually won acceptance. It will either be a celebration, or, in the current political climate, a historical document…

Emerald Earth by Adam J Ridley**** An unfamiliar pen name for an author familiar in another guise (not sure if I’m supposed to say who…). A very exciting foray into full blooded paranormal romance by this author whose work never fails to please! I liked the magic, particularly the way the Wiccan ways and the native American ones interacted. The series should be good – I assume the other curse victims are to be helped find their HEA and I look forward to further exploration of the entire community and its beliefs. Diamond Air by Adam J Ridley**** I enjoyed this second visit to the pagan community, and the exciting storyline. I did think Lance and Drew would have to work harder than Crea and Eli to make their relationship work (they weren’t such an obvious pairing) but I wanted them to succeed and look forward to reading about what will happen with Kyle, the other one of the witch brothers.

Melody of the Heart by Blake Allwood**** A sweet romance saved from sentimentality by some drama that comes from outsiders rather than any introspection. As a pianist (not a very good one) I could really empathise with the work Jonas and Orlando had to put in to succeed in the world of music.

Range of Emotion by Lissa Kasey**** (book 3 of Survivors find Love) Another interesting read in this series. Nice to meet some of the previous characters, both major and minor, too. Just enough suspense and action to keep the plot going nicely. Well written, as usual.

Much Ado about Lady Macbeth by Rebecca Cohen**** Absolutely lovely mm romance set in the Tudor period. The author must have done mountains of research to recreate the atmosphere of The Globe and its actors. I liked the way the book linked to the Crofton Hall series but was a stand-alone. Just missed five stars because of some iffy proof reading. Saving Crofton Hall by Rebecca Cohen**** (Modern Crofton 1) An interesting mm romance which fascinated me because it took place during the conversion of Crofton Hall (from the historical series) into a conference and wedding venue with possible tours. As I worked as a tour guide in a stately home when I was a student, this really ‘spoke’ to me and I enjoyed it immensely. As usual, the author’s research is impeccable.

Finding Finlay by Ruby Moone**** A lovely story with some nail-biting moments. I really like this series with the security firm set in my home city and was delighted to see characters from the first book again. Ruby’s characters, location, plot and style are great but I do wish she’d get a better proof reader.

The Readable:

Ghost of Truth by Alice Winters *** (Book 2 of Medium Trouble) Nicely written and quite exciting story about a guy who talks to ghosts and falls in love with the detective he is consultant to. However, although the ghost banter is amusing it gets to be a bit too much, and the characters in general are not as well developed as those in Jordan Castillo Price’s Psycops series which starts from the same premise (talking to ghosts). I might read book 3 if it’s in KU whereas I pre-order JCP and pay!

The Prince’s Frog by Eden Winters*** Quite a pleasant mm retelling of The Princess and the Frog but for me personally there was too much slightly heavy handed humour.

Heavy Petting by Kiernan Kelly*** A nice story about a hippo shifter but it was too short and I wanted more detail about the characters and location. I think it’s part of a much longer series about the magical rodeo they join so maybe the details appear at random. Meanwhile, on its own, this is readable but not memorable.

Authors new to me:

Nothing highly recommended this month but the following are readable:

The Past We Run From by Meg Jolly*** Competent but ultimately unmemorable police procedural set in Yorkshire. I wasn’t keen on any of the police characters so won’t be following the series.

The Prince of Gremalden by Anne Brooke*** I was intrigued because the theme (arranged mm royal marriage) is one I’ve written myself and it’s always good to see how other writers approach something. However, although the political twists were good the characterisation and world building were less than stellar, and I didn’t actually find myself believing in the romance.

Distant Gardens ed by JS Field*** This anthology of ff sci fi stories is mixed in quality, as is often the case with collections of stories by multiple authors. The romances are sweet enough but the sci fi is too weird and wonderful – I like my sci fi to have some kind of reality and to have elements that encourage the reader to compare and contrast their own physical or social world. Here, the authors seemed to be competing to create strange plants and fungi.

Winter Kills by JP Bowie*** The plot of this mm thriller was quite interesting but underdeveloped, as were the characters, and I felt it was really just a vehicle for the sex scenes. Strippers in New York are being murdered and it’s up to Tom Holt, the main detective, to find out why and stop the carnage.

A couple I thought were poor:

Storm Born by Christine Pope. ** I started reading this m/f  paranormal romance/thriller (and enjoying it) then it ended on a cliffhanger and I realised that the ‘bundle’ of novels it came in were actually all by different authors, Obviously a marketing ploy and I must have realised at some point but it’s ages since I got them… So basically, I was very disappointed and won’t be following the story. I checked and there are about six so far in the series and none of them are cheap or in KU. Only recommended if you feel like buying a series. Well written.  (It didn’t help that my Kindle kept playing up – I don’t think it liked the formatting because it’s fine for everything else.) I may not read the others in the ‘bundle’ either so as a marketing ploy it’s counterproductive.

The Anglesey Murders: Unholy Island by Conrad Jones ** I really didn’t enjoy this. The location was not well described (I’m familiar with it) and the mingling of a huge drug dealing racket (boring in the extreme) with a totally unrelated serial killer spree (unlikely and nasty) was confusing to the reader as well as the detectives. Police procedural but with a lot of wandering off into other points of view.

Finally, the ones I abandoned:

Deadly Motive by Liam Hanson. I didn’t like the style or the police characters in this thriller set in South Wales, then I found we knew who the villain was and just needed to explore the motive and have them caught. Not for me.

Candy Kings by NW Steel  An mm romance set in UK but full of Americanisms and I didn’t like the style. Just – not for me.

The Prodigal Rake by William Hickey ed. Peter Quennell  I thought this autobiography of a Regency ‘rake’ sounded intriguing (it was a charity shop find) but after a few chapters I realised I disliked the narrator so much I couldn’t cope with the idea of a long book about his romantic and sexual exploits. Interesting if you’re looking for period information but not otherwise.

Bodies in the Water by AJ Aberford. Thriller set in Malta with emphasis on people trafficking from Africa. I found the story disjointed and the location poorly described. I also  disliked the lead detective intensely. Since he’s the one who features in the entire series I didn’t think it was worth continuing.

Sealfinger by Heide Goody and Iain Grant. Heavy handed humour and a very slow start to this thriller set on the east coast of UK. I got bored.

Names for the Dawn by CL Beaumont The premise was intriguing. Will, who is trans, works as a ranger in Alaska. He meets a man who is a British Indian ecologist. Can they ever get together or stay together? Sadly, I didn’t care. I couldn’t really empathise sufficiently with either of the characters. The prose was lyrical and I’m sure Alaska is a wonderful third person in the story.

Familiar authors read in July 2022

The excellent/recommended:

Choke back the tears by Mark Richards***** This detective series just gets better and better. In the words of one reviewer it’s like Rankin’s Rebus books but set in Whitby.

Sell the pig by Tottie Limejuice**** Travel tale with a twist by a FB writer friend under a pseudonym. I enjoyed reading about problems with care homes and problems moving abroad. I have experienced both, and was planning to write a faintly similar book except that our Portuguese home went up in 2017’s wildfire flames and I had to give up the idea.

Hair Balls by Tara Lain**** ‘Just’ an mm romance but the characters are so real and even the very minor ones are interesting. Rick needs a hair, clothes and apartment makeover for his sister’s wedding…

Island Doctor by Sue Brown**** Another of the lovely mm romances set on the Isle of Wight. Yes, just a romance, but the real hero is the island community. The location is lovingly presented and the various extended families are delightful.

An arresting ride by Lissa Kasey**** An exciting sequel to Painting with Fire (which I also loved). Bastian and Charlie are comparatively minor characters in this story of a burnt-out police officer and a horse trainer with a damaged past, but Charlie’s fire fighting is centre stage again.

Code Blue by NR Walker**** Very satisfying and exciting story about a pop star menaced by both stalkers and his own health. In the course of dealing with both problems he falls in love with his security guard. I didn’t want it to end.

Dante by Stella Shaw**** First in the Love at the Haven series and I’ll look for the rest. The rent-boy trope is made more interesting by Dante’s background and the other characters are good too. I did wonder why a collapsing ceiling on the second floor of a three storey building would result in snow on the bed but other than that… (The author also writes as Clare London).

Listen by RJ Scott**** An mm romance that is built around a man’s love for his adopted daughter who is profoundly deaf. Interesting and unusual characters. Well written, as always.

The readable:

The Glamourist by Luanne G Smith*** This is an exciting sequel to The Vine Witch (which I loved) but although I wanted to know what happened I was actually quite disappointed in the story. There was some magic in the first book but in this, all kinds of different magic systems and associated creatures were introduced. They were never integrated into a coherent magical world and I got irritated. I missed the vineyards that were so lovingly portrayed in the first book, and found the depiction of Paris less than stellar. I would, I think, have preferred Elena and Jean-Paul to have their HEA at the end of the first volume and I don’t think I’ll read the next in the series. It also makes me wonder whether the next one in the Raven Song series will be worth my time. There were, too, some annoying Americanisms which could easily have been edited out, and a few instances of shaky vocabulary use.

His Grandfather’s Watch by NR Walker*** Very sweet tale about Callum researching his inherited watch and finding romance in the process, Long short story or short novella – not sure. Well written and will appeal to anyone wanting a fluffy mm romance.

Heir to a Curse by Lissa Kasey*** Beautifully written story with a lot of interesting information about aspects of Asian culture. Zach is an appealing character but I wasn’t so keen on Xiang and might have preferred the plot to go in a different direction. Paranormal elements feature throughout.

Rain Shadow by LA Witt*** Pleasant mm romance set on the north west coast of US. Most of the drama arose from the characters’ personal histories rather than anything exciting happening.

Heartscape by Garrett Leigh*** A well written mm romance set in rural Vermont. Unmemorable apart from an exciting rockfall that was a pivotal plot point.

No fanfiction reviews this month though I’ve downloaded quite a lot of long stories.

Authors new to me: July 2022

The recommended:

The Man who tasted Words by Prof. Guy Leschziner**** An interesting non-fiction read, written by a doctor but one who manages to explain things to the layman. It looks at the inside world of our senses and recounts stories of when things go wrong as well as how they should work and how we may all perceive the world somewhat differently.

Leap of Faith by CF White**** An interesting mm romance with a focus on a circus and the acts. There was a slight mystery (most readers would probably, like me, solve it well before the characters did) and there was plenty of angst.

The readable:

Hexxed by Shannon West*** I didn’t really enjoy this but some people might. It’s well written but it’s too ‘busy’ if that makes sense. It’s a shortish novel that manages to pack in witches, voodoo, bdsm, monsters, murder, theft, cursed diamonds, active grimoires, kidnapping, ECT and lobotomy, haunted cemetaries, paranormal fire, and a dysfunctional families. I felt somewhat overwhelmed. The mm romance wasn’t very believable despite the flashbacks in lieu of explanations, since we never really saw the build up or the personalities of the characters outside the wild events of the novel. I won’t be following the series.

Dawn’s Desire by VC Locey*** I wasn’t quite sure how many stars to give this. I was seriously disappointed. I was really hooked by a well written story set in Wyoming, which is beautifully described, with the main focus being a dinosaur dig on a ranch. The romance is between the ranch manager and the professor. The characters, location and main plot were interesting. There was the added excitement of people poaching the dinosaur bones, and injuring some of the university team. Then – well, the book just ended. The romance was still not fully explored and there was no real clue as to who the villains were. I then found it’s part of a trilogy rather than a series, and thought maybe the second book would help but read the blurb and saw the new focus was a different romance. So, as I said, real disappointment and I don’t think I’ll carry on.

My Fallen Dragon by CG Rayne*** Quite a nice (and well written) story featuring a dragon shifter and the teacher who helps him recover from a fall, etc. If I’d read this first instead of the TJ Nichols series I might have like it. But the world building was comparatively poor as was the character development. There is a shared element of the shifter world merging with our own which is an interesting concept.

Loving the Marquess by Suzanna Medeiros*** A regency romantic thriller – worth reading to the end but nowhere near as good as e.g. Heyer. The melodrama is constant with no light relief. I worked out what was happening long before the protagonists did, and although Louisa could be forgiven for not realising, Nicholas showed less than average intelligence. I won’t bother with the sequel as it’s quite obvious Louisa’s sister will ‘get’ her earl.

Sea Change by Jessica Marting*** Nicely written romance story of a mermaid meeting a human man in a steampunk world. I found the location odd, perhaps because it was meant to be near where I live and was written by a Canadian who had clearly merely consulted maps and perhaps Wikipedia. I expected some kind of twist on The Little Mermaid but the plot didn’t echo the fairy tale at all.

The Library of the Dead by TL Huchu*** Paranormal mystery set in a post-apocalypse Edinburgh. The magic was random and poorly explained. The characters were fun but insufficiently developed. I enjoyed the plot but won’t be reading the sequel.

The Woman on the Island by Ann Cleeves*** Quite a pleasant short story but since it’s about Vera (I love the TV series) I was expecting a crime story/mystery and didn’t get it. Despite knowing the TV series (Vera, Shetland, The Long Call) I have put this under new authors as I’ve never read any of the novels the series are based on.

Sixteen Horses by Greg Buchanan***. A seriously dark gruesome crime story that gave me nightmares. I hesitated about the stars because I hated it, but the BBC raved about it and I suppose the writing was literary and good. Sixteen horses are found killed but the plot goes on to cover more (and all too detailed) animal deaths as well as human ones. Told from the viewpoint of a forensic vet working with the police. Needless to say, she is traumatised. Be warned – not for the faint hearted.

Poor:

Dragon Mated by Eliza Doyle** Quite well written but what started as an intriguing shifter romance (MF) degenerated into too much sex and too little explanation of the shifter world. The last couple of chapters were clearly a prequel for the next book in the series which I won’t be reading.

Lethal Resuscitation by Mairi Chong ** Mystery with a doctor as the main detective. Poor, rather stilted writing, uninteresting characters and a very artificial plot.

And then… a whole slew of abandoned books. Remember, these just simply aren’t for me and in most cases I didn’t read enough to comment on the writing.

Daring Duplicity by Edale Lane. Supposed to be a story of lesbian detectives in Victorian London. It read like something awkwardly transported from America and I couldn’t be bothered with it.

A Governess of Great Talents by Emily Murdoch. The first few chapters had a focus on an election that would have been an impossibility in nineteenth century Britain. (Or now, for that matter.) Dukes do not stand for election to the House of Commons. An untrustworthy author!

House of Bastiion by KI Kolarich. There were rave reviews about this fantasy series but after wading through pages of very dry history I lost interest. It might be good but it isn’t for me.

Cleopatra’s Dagger by Carole Lawrence. Abandoned. I just couldn’t get into this mystery set in New York about 1900.

Rebel without a Claus by Zara Keane. I thought a female PI in Ireland sounded intriguing but I was quickly bored.

Dreams of Chimera by Samantha Gardner. Really poor writing and proof reading. (Yes, I abandoned this one because I thought it was dire.) I think the heroine was about to enter the world of fairies etc. and find them less lovable than she hoped. However, I had no desire to find out.

My Not So Funny Valentine by Ellie Pond. Although it belongs in a series, this was supposed to be a stand-alone. However, I didn’t understand a lot of the references and gave up. Actually, this was a good thing as it encouraged me to remove a lot of books from my Kindle. Some freebies sound good until you realise they are parts of series, and not the first parts!

I also culled my tbr pile on my Kindle by removing a number of books I’d downloaded in various sales. It’s easy to get carried away when titles are free and then realise once you read the blurb properly that you are unlikely to enjoy the book. Most of them are available in KU if I ever get that far in their assorted series.

Summer pudding

Leftovers

I make this every summer – usually when we have a glut of raspberries and red currants but any mixture of red and purple fruit will do. I sometimes add blueberries or blackcurrants. Next week I have some blackberries to use. Obviously you can also make it at other times of the year using frozen fruit.

It’s really easy but takes 24 hours before it’s ready.

Start by putting the fruit into a pan with a little sugar – not too much because you want the results to be quite tangy – and a little water so that it doesn’t burn before cooking and so that you’ll have some juice. (The only bit of this stage I dislike is ‘stringing’ red currants to remove the stalks; try to have something to listen to or someone to talk to while you work.) I use a bowl of raspberries, a bowl of redcurrants, and a bowl of whatever else I have. Simmer until the berries have burst but try not to make jam. Leave to cool.

Take at least half a loaf of sliced light white bread (for UK readers I use what we call Danish) and remove the crusts. Preserve as much bread as possible because you’ll need it. (For anyone feeling concerned about waste, leave the crusts to dry and turn into breadcrumbs.)

Find a deepish bowl. I use a ‘Pyrex’ one so that I can see what’s going on. Make sure it’s one that is big enough in diameter to take a saucer, perhaps half way up. Use tongs, if you have them, and dip the bread in the juice of the fruit, one slice at a time. Only one side needs to soak up juice. Place in the bowl, juicy side out, till the bowl is coated. Now use a slotted spoon and spoon the fruit, but not the rest of the juice, into the bread coating. Top with more bread, again dipped in juice. If there isn’t much juice left you can pour it over the bread. Don’t go mad – you’re better off keeping extra juice to pour later.

Now place something on top – I use cling film – and let it overhang the top of the bowl then weight that down with a saucer. Put something really heavy on top of the saucer e.g. a large full jar or tin.

Put the bowl in a cool place. There’s nothing wrong with the fridge but you don’t need to take up fridge room if you have a cool pantry.

Roughly 24 hours later, remove the weight, saucer and cling film. Find a plate that is bigger than the bowl. Use a knife or spatula to loosen the pudding then invert the bowl over the plate. The best way to do that is to place the plate on top then invert the entire thing. The pudding should slide out so that you have a deep red/pink dome.

Serve with cream, yoghurt or ice cream (or a non-dairy equivalent). You really need that bland taste to cut through the tanginess I mentioned.

Enjoy. Leftovers (there are only two of us, so that depends on your household) will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

A new zine on the block

RoM/Mantic Reads is a new zine edited by my friend Fiona Glass. I was involved years ago when she ran Forbidden Fruit, a similar venture, and I know she expects high standards so if any of you enjoy m/m flash fiction (usually less than 1000 words) and articles I can recommend this! It’s on WordPress so you can ‘follow’ it and get notifications about updates. These will be irregular but reasonably frequent. I’m hoping to contribute myself. Here’s the link, and the first story is published!

https://rommanticreads.wordpress.com/

What I watched in July 22

Stranger Things Seasons 2 and 3 ***** (Netflix) Worth watching for the acting abilities of the teens, the zany ideas, the 80s ambience etc. even if you find the small town horror story hard to swallow. Hooked.

Needless to say: politics! This month in UK the political programmes (which we watch anyway) have been more exciting than thrillers… Once the final two contenders to be next PM were chosen the interest died down.

An Undeclared War**** (All4). Very intelligent drama. Well acted. Centred round GCHQ. Yes, some of the plot was far fetched, but it was drama, after all, not docu-drama!

Paula Rego: Secrets and Stories **** (BBC4) Fascinating long look at the life of the acclaimed Portuguese artist who died recently in London. Really worth watching, for the insights into her life and art. I don’t personally ‘like’ her art but can admire it.

Imagine**** (BBC4) Alan Yentob explored the art of Cornelia Parker, a British artist.

A History of Art in Three Colours**** (BBC 4 so on iPlayer) We watched episode 2 out of 3 and I must find the others. James Fox explored the origins of the blue paint created from lapis lazuli. Really interesting programme.

Unvaccinated**** (iPlayer) Hannah Fry attempts to debate with anti-vaxxers who have a variety of reasons for distrusting the Covid vaccine. Interesting to hear their stories, and to follow her explanations.

Murder in the Alps*** (All4) Exploration of the still ongoing investigation into the murder of a British family in France about 10 years ago. The only (tentative) conclusions are incompetence or a possible cover up.

Rig 45: Murder at Sea.(All4) Abandoned. Somebody in Sweden clearly watched Vigil and thought something similar with Norwegian oil rigs and a Brit investigator might work. It didn’t. It was all in English which was jarring and was apparently because the lead actor only spoke English. With a change of lead for season 2 this changed but the subtitles were not clear. As one reviewer said, this didn’t matter much as most people had stopped watching. We only gave it one episode of season 1 before switching off so I only know about the lead change from reviews.

Authors new to me in June

Excellent and highly recommended:

Guardians of the Poor by Jackson Marsh***** Excellent thriller set in Victorian era. There is an mm element but no sex in the story. The writing is good and drags the reader into the world of the workhouse and then the ‘academy’ provided by Viscount Clearwater. I will definitely read others in the Larkspur Mysteries series but might not get the ‘prequel’ Clearwater series because all the backstory detail in this book makes me think the thriller element, which was the main attraction, might be lost.

Deven and the Dragon by Eliot Grayson**** Delightful mashup of various fairy tales and legends. Beauty and the Beast meets George and the Dragon in this mm romance.

Readable:

Powder and Pavlova by Jay Hogan*** Romance set in NZ but could have been anywhere. Pleasant and well written, just not really memorable.

Ghost of Lies by Alice Winters*** Hiro can talk to ghosts and helps Maddox, a detective. Then, of course, romance ensues. Quite nice, though I didn’t enjoy the present tense narration. I might read the sequel.

Embrace the Beast by Mia West*** Readable mm shifter story set in Alaska. I thought things were going to get exciting when there was a high spring tide that washed a house away, but then the story just trundled on. The idea of an otter shifter sleeping in the water is cute. This is Grizzly Rim 3 but I didn’t feel a need to have read the previous novels, or, for that matter, to follow the series.

The Order (Box Set) by Kasia Bacon*** – sort of new in that I read a free short story in her ‘Order Universe’ and was sufficiently intrigued to borrow the box set on KU. I read the first two: The Mutt and The Highlander. At that point I decided they weren’t for me and returned them. The world building and character development are excellent, the writing is good, and the concept (mm romance between army officers in a fantasy setting) is good too. However, for my personal tastes the stories were top heavy with expicit sex and military training. Recommended for those of you who might like that kind of tale. I was sorry I didn’t continue because I know the author is paid per page read in KU, but I was bored.

Disappointing:

Dragon Ever After by Louisa Masters** From the blurb and hype I was expecting something to rival TJ Nichols’ multi-species world but this was mainly just enthusiastic sex scenes interspersed with schoolyard-type banter which really didn’t appeal, especially from beings that were hundreds of years old.

Abandoned – not for me!

In Allegiance by Kate Islay A top commander in a mediaeval fantasy empire is given a captive prince as a slave… I quite enjoy the power dynamics issues explored in slave fics but here I was put off by the way the empire was simply expanding for the sake of it and knew I would dislike all its commanders etc.

Steal the Wind by Jocelynn Drake The main character was prince in a modern empire where he seemed more concerned about his mother the queen controlling him than about her land grabbing tendencies. I couldn’t engage with him or his friends and gave up.

Purple Stain by Nat Lewis Impenetrable. Lots and lots of figures of speech interspersed with teen slang. I think it was going to be an mm romance set in Wales but I gave up before we got that far. Possibly just shows my age, because I know some readers are raving about it.

This Way Out by Tufayel Ahmed The story of Amar, a Bengali Muslim, and his boyfriend Joshua, who is white and non-Muslim, ought to be engrossing. Amar comes out to his family, announcing his marriage plans at the same time. The result is a lot of discussion with both Joshua and the family, in very pedestrian dialogue, with a focus on racism in British society and cultural attitudes on the part of Bengali immigrants. The book has had a lot of hype and the author is a highly regarded journalist. Frankly, I think he should stick to the day job. I got very bored quite quickly. The writing is, as you would expect, competent and grammatical. I assume the hype is due to the author’s status in the media world. I got the book as an Amazon ‘first read’ so it was free and I felt able to abandon it with no qualms.

Fanfiction.

Nothing exciting – this is just to show I haven’t abandoned the genre! Both authors are new to me. I won’t be exploring their other work.

this wheel’s on fire by SidleyParkHermit ** https://archiveofourown.org/works/35911156

Wheel of Time. Not abandoned but only because it was very short. A perfect example of why, for the fic to make any kind of sense, you’d have to have read all the books and seen season 1 of the show. Well written and basically impenetrable. I have read and seen the books and show and couldn’t imagine where the writer thought they were going. If you have also immersed yourself in The Wheel of Time and you fancy reading a Mat Cauthon/Thom Merrilin pairing, it’s only a couple of thousand words.

Arguably Insane by Jaylee ** https://archiveofourown.org/works/496984

Trek – Spock/Kirk told from the pov of an outsider (a crew member) which I dislike because it distances the main characters too much for me. If you don’t dislike that format, then it’s just over 6k words and strictly for readers who are familiar with Trek.

June reviews: books by familiar authors

I apologise for the lateness of June’s reviews. I have been grappling with a new laptop. Microsoft, Chrome, etc. do not play nicely together. I managed Office and OneDrive eventually with the help of the wonderful people at the help desk. Their job would be so much easier if Microsoft used some common sense in the first place. Photoshop is, as yet, a step too far but I might get it transferred by August…

The highly recommended:

The Echo of Bones by Mark Richards***** Another great addition to his Whitby detective series.

The Schoolmaster’s Spy by Ruby Moone**** (Winsford Green series) A lovely story involving mm romance and early nineteenth century secret agents. There were a few delightful cameo appearances from a previous novel in the series.

The Case of the Grey Assassin by Charlie Cochrane**** An intriguing case or cases for the acting duo to solve. Good writing, as ever. I can’t work out why this pair don’t appeal to me as much as the author’s other amateur and professional detectives but they don’t. Also Lock, Stock and Peril**** which is more of a police procedural, with Robin in charge of the case and his husband Adam in the background. The author dealt well with the pandemic and lockdowns, and the whole story was more to my taste. I didn’t guess the solution until Robin did!

Sinders and Ash by Tara Lain**** A nice mm version of Cinderella, cleverly transported to the twenty first century.

The Fever of the World by Phil Rickman**** I have loved the Merrily Watkins series – Merrily (a vicar with doubts) is the diocesan exorcist and finds herself embroiled in cases that seem to point to the paranormal but usually end up with the police making arrests. Her family and friends are delightful. Like others in the Phil Rickman Appreciation group on FB I have been anxious about Phil’s health and looking forward to this long awaited novel in the series. I loved it as a novel. As a mystery it was perhaps a little disappointing and although Merrily’s daughter Jane was very present, other favourite characters made only fleeting appearances. Like Charlie Cochrane, Phil Rickman wasn’t afraid to tackle Covid and lockdown. A fascinating look at Wordsworth’s poems inspired by the Wye Valley, and at Merrily’s problems with the bishop, but not, I think, the author’s best work.

The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison.**** I am in awe of this author’s world building. I loved The Goblin Emperor and the story is set in the same world with its complex languages, ethnicities and religions. The main character, who appeared briefly in the previous book, is a cross between a priest and a detective. He has to solve two possible murders, which are eventually partially linked, as well as facing ghosts and ghouls. He is gay, which never overpowers the story as this is not a romance though there is potential for a sequel. Further reading about the author tells me her other pen name is Sarah Monette. I have heard rave reviews of her works but as the ones that appeal to me are out of print and going for extortionate prices I am unlikely to read them which makes me slightly sad.

The Fireman’s Pole by Sue Brown**** Very readable contemporary mm romance set in an English village. The fires that the fireman has to deal with raise it above mere romance status.

Inheritance by Lissa Kasey**** Gripping paranormal thriller with a side helping of mm romance. Seiran is a powerful male witch and that makes him a target for various groups. However, some explanations might have helped earlier in the story since I found it confusing and hard to get into. Just because Seiran didn’t know was no real reason to keep the reader in the dark.

Readable:

Beautifully Unexpected by Lily Morton*** Quite well written if you cope well with present tense narration. I was bored by the story which has a lawyer and an artist get together. There is a great deal of banter where it is hard to follow just who who is saying what, and there is very little in the way of action other than London sightseeing and sex. Even the dog is less than stellar. If you like basic romance with older protagonists you might enjoy it.

The Crazy Bookshop by E Broom.*** Absolutely delighful story set in a magical Brit town with quirky and memorable characters, but oh dear, the proof reading or lack thereof. Better editing would have gained another star.

Abandoned – not for me!

College Days by Rebecca Cohen I should have known from the title. College romances just don’t appeal to me though she’s a good writer so if they’re to your taste it’s probably worth reading!

I shall probably post about authors new to me in June before next weekend.

What I watched in June

A petunia in my daughter’s garden

Sherwood***** (iplayer) Excellent six part drama about Nottinghamshire miners, back during the strikes and today. Elements of police procedural but so much more. Well written, directed, acted. Highly recommended.

Radioactive*** (iplayer) Poorly directed though well acted and interesting biopic about Marie Curie

I am a Mutoid: a Glastonbury Hero*** Some intriguing art and some strange philosophies – Joe Rush. (BBC 4 so probably on iplayer)

We seem to be watching Stranger Things… but have only just finished season 2

And before June ends, May reading

Our neighbours’ Chilean potato tree in May this year.

Books: A lot of good reads last month, but of course this is from a list of authors I already know and trust! I don’t seem to have read any fanfiction in May that wasn’t so enmeshed in canon as to be impenetrable to general readers.

The absolutely excellent:

Envy and Other Cravings by TJ Nichols***** Third in the series. I’m so impressed with the sci fi/fantasy element – basically, the Hadron Collider caused the world of the ‘mythos’ to collide with ours and somehow they have merged… Edra is a lesser dragon (shifter) and is the mythos liaison officer to the San Francisco police. His colleague and soulmate is Jordan, a human cop. The crimes are fascinating and the solutions are not at all conventional. The romance is well developed with a lot of angst. I am devastated that the fourth volume is still only on pre-order.

The very very good:

Trusting Jack by Ruby Moone**** A lovely story to start a series set in the city where I live. I guessed the crime well before the protagonists were clued in and kept wanting to kick them. Slightly marred by an inability of the author’s spell checker (machine or human) to differentiate all the time between ‘of’ and ‘off’, and I must tell other readers that Denton (where I have worked) is not between Gorton (where my daughter lives) and Longsight… Apart from those nitpicking details, a gripping mm romance and crime story.

Even Stranger by Marilyn Messik**** Another exciting slice of life (and a wedding) for the heroine with paranormal abilities. The mundane police are now involved but Stella can solve things they can’t. And the third in the series Stranger Still****. This was apparently going to be a trilogy but the author has been inundated with requests for more. I shall certainly read them. Stella has an apparently normal childhood in post war London in a small Jewish family. But she can fly and she can hear what people are thinking…

Ghosts Galore by Fiona Glass**** A really fun read. Expanded and altered, based on a short story from ages ago but I didn’t feel cheated (having read the short) – in fact I felt enriched by the addition of details and mm romance. Grandfather’s ghost is delightful.

Romantic Recon by Blake Allwood**** Another in the ‘romantic’ series. Very tense story with lots of situations involving CIA, FBI. Mafia, guns, etc. and a lovely romance at the centre that is constantly put at risk by violence and betrayal. In some respects it’s a sequel to Romantic Renovations and Romantic Rescue and readers should probably read those first, though this could be read as a stand-alone if you don’t worry about some mystifying references to past events. (I had read the others first.)

Centauri Doll by Wendy Rathbone**** Four stars for the standard of writing and the plot which is clever and unusual. The narrator is a vat-grown human on sale as a pleasure slave. The book seems at first to be a typical ‘slave’ fic romance but ends up exploring what it means to be human, and on the way treats the reader to a lot of exquisite world building. There is also a thriller element, which kept me reading. However, for me personally, there was too much sex, sensuality, etc. in a lot of detail and I didn’t completely enjoy it even though these were essential to the story. If you don’t mind (or if you enjoy) frequent mm sex scenes, I would recommend the book.

Knight of Ocean Avenue by Tara Lain**** Excellent mm romance that addresses a lot of issues with homophobia, religious attitudes, coming out, etc. Good development of minor characters including family and cats, which is always a plus!

The Actor and the Earl by Rebecca Cohen**** Nicely written mm romance between an actor in Shakespeare’s London and an earl. First of the books in the Crofton Hall series and the author tells us it is ten years old this week! Faint echoes of Twelfth Night: Sebastian masquerades as Anthony’s wife in place of his twin, Bronwyn. But other plays (and sonnets) feature in the text as does the newly built Globe.

Shades of Sepia by Anne Barwell**** I was a bit doubtful because this is a vampire novel and I don’t much like vampires (too much mention of blood) but there are werewolves, ghosts and humans, too, and an interesting serial murder case. So I was engrossed and will get the next in the series which features some of the same characters but is by a different author.

And the readable:

Signs of Spring by Rachel Ember*** (Wild Ones Book2) Another fairly gripping story in the series. Again, use of present tense doesn’t endear it to me, and in this volume we were treated to a lot of flashbacks at the beginning. If you’d read Long Winter these were unnecessary and if you hadn’t they weren’t sufficient to explain all the issues. However, I did stay up past bedtime to finish this and will probably read the next in the series provided it’s on KU.