April reading by familiar (to me) authors

April flowers: bluebells and forget-me-nots in a neighbour’s garden.

Some excellent reads this month.

Greed and other dangers by TJ Nichols***** Sequel to Lust and other drugs which I reviewed last month. Just as good. Edra and Jordan are a fascinating couple and both the crime investigations and the UST are really gripping, as is the human/mytho world building. There’s at least one more to come! This is dragon shifter mm romance with a difference. I already have the next in the series.

Dearest Milton James by NR Walker***** Malachi goes to work at the Dead Letter Office (renamed The Mail Distribution Centre). His own mm romance is beautifully interwoven with one from fifty years ago that comes to light in some undelivered mail. The team pull together to find the sender. The ending was superb and, like Malachi, I almost cried for happiness. I believe there’s a short sequel.

Cursed: Ride or Die by Eden Winters**** Exciting mm story involving shifters, witches, sorcerers and curses. A sort of modern fairy story with bikers instead of wings and brooms.

And some others that are readable but forgettable:

How to catch a vet by Ana Ashley*** Sweet mm romance but not very interesting though the Great Dane who adopts ducks and kittens is amusing.

Hot Seat by Eli Easton*** Sweet mm romance. I might read the sequel because there’s a background family saga that’s worth following. (A whole family of macho firefighters and strong women.) Well written, as is usual for this author.

Don’t forget that three stars merely indicates a less than intensely good plot.

Nothing poor or abandoned, but then I knew what I would be getting with these writers. Abandoned reads are usually by authors new to me.

Fanfic (only one this month)

Tigger Holmes and the Case of Elsinore’s Ghost by Small_Hobbit**** Wonderful spoof story combining Winnie the Pooh, Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes and slash (not explicit). Only 1480 words so worth trying! https://archiveofourown.org/works/38264944

What I watched in April

Blossom everywhere!

The recommended:

The Green Book ***** Excellent film that explored American racism through the relationship between a musician and his driver. Watched on BBC – no idea if it’s still available.

Dogs Behaving Very Badly***** (My5) It’s usually the owners who are behaving cluelessly but Graham Hall sorts them out. Our weekly comfort viewing.

Ridley Road BBC***** (iplayer) It might have vanished by now but if you get a chance, watch it. The basis is a true story about a (mainly) Jewish fight against Colin Jordan’s fascists, turned into a novel and then a TV series. Apparently there may be a second season.

Official Secrets***** (iPlayer till 14th May) Star studded cast in a dramatised reconstruction of the GCHQ whistle blower case from the Iraq was. I loved the legal scenes.

The 1975 Queen Concert***** We’ll watch/re-watch almost anything with Queen. Possibly BBC

The World’s End***** A re-re-re-watch. I love all the so called ‘Cornetto’ trilogy though I think Hot Fuzz is my favourite. However, this has the unforgettable moments when Martin Freenman’s head explodes (and is empty) and Rosamund Pike acting all ‘ditzy’ before driving through fire like an F1 racer. Pegg and Frost are brilliant, as usual. I think it was on BBC4

The fairly interesting:

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe *** (itv hub)I only watched because husband was watching so it was on. Some people (both the thief and his wife) can be so stupid it hurts. Again, based on a true story and later we watched a long interview with the people involved.

The poor:

The Spy Who Dumped Me** (Film4) Well, it was on, so instead of being driven from the room I half watched it but didn’t like what I saw. Very OTT humour and lots of predictable violence.

And the (for me) unwatchable:

The Canefield Killings Abandoned (All 4). An 8 part South African crime series. Subtitles, in use when characters were speaking Afrikaans or an African language, were too small and too quickly removed to be helpful. I got the gist of the story so far but also got tired of the somewhat pretentious photography.

New (to me) authors discovered in April

Deep pink car parked under pink blossom and surrounded by fallen petals (April 20th).

I usually start the month with TV reviews but as the first day starts on a Sunday, and a friend has a ‘newly discovered booka’ day on his Sunday FB I thought I’d post this today.

Recommended:

Salt in the Wounds by Mark Richards**** Beautifully written novel that also happened to be a crime story set on part of the Yorkshire coast familiar to me. I grabbed the next in the series, The River Runs Deep**** Another really good crime story and I love the way the author brings ‘my’ part of the world to life with a lot of detail. Very slow burn romance between the lead detective and a colleage (mf) adds to the pleasure.

The Flesh of Trees by Kath Middleton**** Modern fairy tale with echoes of Red Riding Hood and a nod to eco-warriors. Well written and quite intriguing.

Relatively Strange by Marilyn Messik**** Stella, living a very ordinary childhood in mid twentieth century London, discovers she has abnormal abilities. She gets involved with a group of similar ‘strange’ people and helps rescue a child from a doctor who is carrying out psi experiments. Alternating angsty and hilarious. An exciting read and I have the sequel lined up.

The readable:

Carillon’s Curse by Sionnach Wintergreen *** Gripping paranormal/historical/mm romance and crime. I thought the ending was rushed and not altogether believable. And the crimes were too gruesome (children murdered in a totally bestial fashion). However, it was well written and held my interest.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton *** This came highly recommended. Lots of gratuitous violence to children plus growing up in a dysfunctional family among drug dealers in Brisbane then the author’s notes suggest a lot of the story is autobiographical which makes it worse. Interesting and well written but I hated it.

The Wolves are coming by E.Broom *** Quite an exciting introduction to a series about a pack with mixed species. I loved the story but the quality of the proof reading was dire and kept throwing me out of the book.

The Corfe Castle Murders by Rachel McLean*** Reasonably competent police procedural with ff potential but I didn’t like any of the characters – police, victims or criminals – so I didn’t care about the case.

An outline of abnormal psychology edited by Murphy and Bachrach.*** Intriguing collection of articles written just after WWII – some could have been written today and others showed how far our thinking on mental health has changed since then.

The poor:

A history of costume by Carl Köhler** Disappointing. It only covered western Europe from the Greeks to the mid nineteenth century, and there was little or no attempt to relate change to social conditions apart from the French Revolution. Since patterns were given alongside pictures, it might be a useful book for a theatrical costumier. For a general reader it was less than stellar.

And the ones that didn’t appeal to me at all:

Withershynnes by Susanna M Newstead Abandoned. A shifter historical crime story should have appealed but as Mabel could shift into anything she fancied it seemed like a magical solution to crime investigation and didn’t really appeal.

Missy the Werecat by P G Alison. Abandoned. I gather it’s a long series and to be honest I couldn’t be bothered with teenage Missy and her sudden discovery of her shifter nature.

No-one likes humans by Clare Solomon. Abandoned. Detectives in space. Includes humour and possible mm romance. Poor world building, character development etc. Technically competent writing but the story lacks detail and I lost interest.

I did watch quite a lot of TV and will report my findings shortly!

How not to cook…

Actually, mine’s blue but I cheated and played with the advert.

So I had two things:

*I had a temporary crown on a front tooth and strict instructions not to bite

*I had a big joint of pork in the freezer that screamed crackling but said it was perfect for pulled pork

I researched pulled pork and thought it sounded interesting, especially if I couldn’t eat crackling. As usual, I read a number of recipes and grasped the basic principles. All of them said it was the perfect dish for a slow cooker. (I love my slow cooker – it makes me feel all virtuous that I’ve prepped a meal in the morning and then I have nothing to do at dinner time except switch it off.)

The steps were:

*Rub the joint with a mix of seasonings and spices

*Place on a bed of veg in the slow cooker

*Add liquid, mostly apple juice and cider vinegar but don’t cover the meat

*Leave the layer of fat on top – it will prevent the meat drying out and can be ‘crackled’ in the oven later (husband wanted this even though my tooth didn’t)

*Cook on low all day

Did all that. The result was, admittedly, very tender meat that just about fell apart and was, I suppose, capable of being ‘pulled’ if I’d wanted to bother.

However:

*It wasn’t particularly tasty and I think most of the spice rub floated off into the juice which made a small jug of gravy and a huge jug of something to put in the fridge and worry about

*The fat was too moist to crisp in the oven (and yes, I tried)

Verdict:

Wouldn’t bother again – if I wanted pulled pork I’d do it all day in the oven and uncover the fat for long enough to make crackling (and my tooth is now permanently crowned and can bite).

Lesson:

Don’t always believe the recipes you find online.

A writer’s lament about a WIP that doesn’t progress.

Outside our front door.

It has dawned on me why my latest WIP is going so slowly.

Way back in October I participated in a Monsterfest in the ushobwri community on Dreamwidth. Every day for a week we posted flashfics or drabbles about different mythical beings. One of my ficlets was about a human/fae mm romance and the characters nagged me to write their full story in at least novella form, and give it a happier ending. The nagging was successful in that I decided to comply.

There shouldn’t be any problems. The outline plot (or most of it, if you forget the ending) is there already, and the characters are very real in my head. (In fact, they chatter non-stop.) But it has been going incredibly slowly. Snails would be faster. Or sloths.

The trouble is, my brain thinks I’ve already written the story. It’s even on AO3 in the community collection for 2021 – all 657 words of it. Really, really long…!!! And although I have to change the ending that’s already done, in my mind. So expanding the tale is proving very boring indeed!

I’m used, I think, to not quite knowing what’s going to happen as I write. OK, if there’s a crime to be solved I know the solution, even when I’m not sure about the perpetrator. But on the way from the beginning to the end I just watch my characters and report what they get up to.

Not this time.

Also, the story is firmly resisting any hint of a title. As a working title (well, I have to have those for files, saving and so on) I’m calling it ‘Rip Van Winkle for now’ because it’s very vaguely based on that although my human is from the middle ages. A title would, I think, make me more likely to put in some work. Who knows?

It doesn’t help that my beta is not reading quickly for reasons beyond her (or my) control. So I have nobody pushing me to write faster. Plus my usual editor has just sent back the first draft of a novel which is just begging for amendments and formatting. (Why on earth would those appeal more than writing??)

I’m nearly up to 15k words and will definitely reach at least 20k if I can ever motivate myself. So – plot, characters, location and length are all in place. It’s not exactly writer’s block.

All I have to do is finish it. (‘But you already have,’ says my brain.)

Familiar authors read in March, and some fanfic recs.

If you stick the bulbs in the garden after their Christmas glory indoors, you do actually get flowers eventually!

Books by familiar authors:

The recommended:

Breaking Cover by Kaje Harper**** Sequel to Life Lessons. Plenty of police procedural in the mystery part and plenty of drama in the personal lives. I really like this pair and will be following their story.

Judgement Dave by Si Clarke**** Second in the Starship Teapot series. Just as slightly weird and absolutely wonderful as The Left Hand of Dog. Sci fi with some humour, some gripping angst and a healthy dose of social commentary. The multi-species crew of the Teapot help to rescue two species from a planet threatened by an asteroid. Lots of aliens, alien points of view, and different communication methods.

The Raven Spell by Luanne G Smith**** Excellent ripper-style mystery set in a steampunk alternative London with magic user investigators. I thought this was an author new to me but find she wrote The Vine Witch which I also loved. The Vine Witch was a complete story with little or no possibility of a sequel but The Raven Spell, although it had a satisfactory ending, left lots of room for Edwina and Ian to explore both their abilities and their relationship. I hope to read more; the sequel is due out in October. And meanwhile, I’ve found a sort of sequel to The Vine Witch on KU!

Darkest by Paul L Arvidson **** Exciting sequel to Dark and Darker but I do think the blurb could have had less focus on the arrival of the marines on the Dark planet. (They arrive on the last page.) I am definitely going to read the next book in the series. The inhabitants of the Dark planet with their civil wars are intriguing, and the people from earth travelling towards them are well developed characters with a wonderful alien and sentient spaceship.

People like us by Ruby Moone**** Beautifully written historical romance in the Crofton Hall series – the blacksmith and the valet.

The readable:

Trapped by Ruby Moone***This is a lovely and exciting story set in Regency England with rescues of young men, women and children from an evil brothel. Sadly, for me, it was thoroughly spoilt by very slapdash proof reading which gave so many errors I got tired of reading. If you can cope with a lot of typos, you’d enjoy the tale and the mm romance.

Poles Apart by Alex J Adams*** Competent sequel to Dance With Me but there was too much explicit sex and too little real drama for my tastes. It’s a companion volume rather than a sequel because it covers the romance of two minor characters during the same time period.

The Less than Spectacular Times of Henry Milch by Marshall Thornton*** A ‘cosy’ small town mystery with a gay protagonist and a gay victim. I didn’t care for any of the characters so found it hard to care about outcomes.

The Wishing Tree by RJ Scott *** Sweet Christmas story. Nicely written but merely sweet!

Bigger than us by Jodi Payne and BA Tortuga***. Over-sweet story about two guys who end up joint guardians to two kids and get married. Too much over-cute kid stuff and too much sex. Also, why do these authors head hop without warning???

The Soldati Prince by Charlie Cochet*** I loved Charlie’s Thirds series but this was a very ordinary soulmate mark story which wasn’t particularly improved by being set between our world and another. I won’t bother with the sequel.

Fanfiction

More from ‘From the pen of Inky Quill’ by okapi **** – a porcupine writes in the Sherlock Holmes universe… This was chapter 72 and it’s worth following – I subscribe and new chapters appear occasionally in my inbox which always improves my day. https://archiveofourown.org/works/6848800/chapters/93756946

Fanfic writers new to me:

Without Breaking Anything by Shinybug**** Teen Wolf. Short but interesting first time Stiles/Derek. Explicit sex that was actually a pleasure to read. Recommended but you probably need some familiarity with the canon. https://archiveofourown.org/works/26222557

Milk Run by escriveine*** SGA (au) John is Rodney’s new milkman. Sweet but unmemorable

Milk Run – escriveine – Stargate Atlantis [Archive of Our Own]

My Words to Catch (like I’m trying) by secondstar*** Teen Wolf. A sex pollen story. Not terribly well written or memorable. My Words to Catch (like I’m trying) – secondstar – Teen Wolf (TV) [Archive of Our Own]

And I am mystified as to why the URLs for AO3 works are behaving oddly.

Authors new to me in March 22

Tulips received UK Mothers’ Day 2022

Some nice discoveries this month.

The excellent:

The Secret Life of Albert Entwhistle by Matt Cain***** Fascinating novel about finding a teenage love after fifty years, with lots of detail about how gay men were treated in UK at various points of the twentieth century. Beautifully written. Highly recommended.

Lust and Other Drugs by TJ Nichols***** Urban fantasy mixed with cop buddy story. Great exploration of culture clash. Fascinating protagonists and lots of UST. I must get the rest of the series.

The recommended:

Surreal Estate by Jesi Ryan**** Interesting story with a house whisperer… will follow the series.

Quarter Storm by Veronica Henry**** Unusual amateur detective story set in New Orleans where Mambo Reina, a vodou priestess, needs to see justice done. Reina’s character was brilliant and so was the depiction of vodou tradition and practice.

The readable:

Death in the Sunshine by Steph Broadribb*** I suppose if you like cosy mysteries, this fits the bill though the retired detectives investigating a murder in their gated community have more mystery about them than the crime does, and the ending tries to lure the reader to a sequel with hints of yet more secrets. For me, it doesn’t work.

Long Winter by Rachel Ember*** Nice mm romance on a ranch in winter. Slightly marred for me by being told in present tense. I will probably read the sequels because the characters (especially the horses) were endearing.

The Griffin Mission by Arizona Tape*** Ella finds a winged cat and follows it to another world. Reminiscent of something I’m currently writing but without the explanations I feel obliged to provide. It’s the prequel to The Griffin Sanctuary series but I don’t think I’ll bother. (I’d really rather other writers felt obliged to explain things, too.)

Dark is the grave by TG Reid*** Very gruesome police procedural that had more focus on the gory crimes and the detectives’ private lives than the detecting.

The Blacksmith and the Ex-con by Jackie North*** Nicely written romance but too sweet for my taste, and there was very little drama during the story. What there was was mostly related to the ex-con’s past. Again, not to my taste but that isn’t a criticism.

The poor:

Barista and the Bear by Rebel Carter** The amount of banter detracts from the romance and the sex. In any case, despite the ‘electrical charge’ I couldn’t sense a spark between Teresa and her Bear Shifter mate, Cash. Basically, boring. Quite short or I would probably have abandoned it.

And the abandoned:

Rescue Me by Wendy Rathbone. Stories where a criminal is the main character rarely appeal to me and I wasn’t keen on the writing style.

Tracking Trouble by Aldrea Alien. There was so much loving detail about violence and so little actual story that by a quarter of the way through I’d had enough. The story involves elves and humans living in the same kingdom, dangerous ‘spellsters’ and a variety of bisexual characters.

What I watched in March

Violas once upon a time in Portugal…

The ones I loved:

The Great Pottery Throwdown ***** (All4) I’m not always a fan of competitive programmes but I love the way we get to know all sorts about pottery whilst watching a group of really interesting people. I guessed the winner, but I imagine most viewers did.

This is going to hurt***** (BBC iplayer) Better than the book in many ways. Clever and tragic at both a personal level and re the state of the NHS, with flashes of black humour just to keep us on our toes. The main actors were brilliant – though I would probably watch Ben Wishaw in anything, anyway.

Brief Encounter***** This was on BBC but by now will have disappeared from iPlayer. A re-watch, of course. Sometimes, once you know a film well, the details have more impact than the ending. Anyway, of its kind, it’s probably perfect though with that cast and that production/writing team perfection was always going to be a given.

Vienna Blood seasons 2 and 3***** (BBC iplayer) Intriguing mysteries, fabulous settings (Vienna c1900) and lots of banter between the young Freudian doctor and the police Investigator he helps. Their family lives are interesting but don’t intrude too much on the cases. There are plenty of clever echoes of other shows e.g. The Third Man and various iterations of Sherlock Holmes. Our only criticism involved the replacement of one actor for season 3. I imagine it was something the producers couldn’t avoid but the new casting wasn’t, somehow, quite good enough. Still on iPlayer for another fortnight or so. I adored season 1 then somehow missed season 2 so we had to binge watch 2 and 3…)

The ones I enjoyed:

The Responder **** (BBC iplayer) Grim cop show set in Liverpool which gives it a sense of immediacy from where I live. Martin Freeman is quite good in his role as the overwhelmed policeman and I liked Rita Tushingham’s cameo appearance. Plenty of possibilities for another season.

Jeremy Kyle Show: Death on Daytime **** (All4) Documentary about the itv programme that led to a number of suicides. Chilling. I once watched an episode in the show’s early days but never returned to it because I found it distasteful (to me) in the extreme. I have no idea whether I sensed the problems that lay behind the production.

Holding**** (itv hub) Interesting crime story set in the Republic of Ireland in a rural community. Based on a novel by Graham Norton and produced by Kathy Burke. Very ‘different’ and held my interest right to the end. As usual, the NS film critic gave it a bad review and entirely missed the point of the story. Conleth Hill, who plays the main character (the village policeman) was brilliant. It’s hard to believe it’s the same actor as Varys in Game of Thrones, and Max’s father in Vienna Blood.

And the ones that were watchable:

The Promise*** (All4) Disappointing (especially from the makers of Spiral) but reasonably gripping French cop show set in an area we know quite well (the coast just north of Bayonne). A problem I had was that the actor playing one of the detectives is also a detective in Crimson Rivers (which has just started a new season) and that turned out to be vaguely confusing.

If Beale Street Could Talk*** This has probably also disappeared from iPlayer. The love story angle was moving. So was the plot (based on a novel by James Baldwin) with its condemnation of the American legal system. The filming, I thought, was nowhere near as good as the script.

Some more February reviews

Some beautiful gin we were given at Christmas. W e haven’t opened it yet because we don’t want to lose the ‘flakes’. Any advice welcome.

Books by familiar authors

The brilliant:

A Killing Frost by Seanan McGuire*****+ The urban fantasy series that just gets better and better. This one wouldn’t make sense if you hadn’t read the earlier volumes but October Daye is the most fabulous ‘hero’. Her wedding to Tybalt is scheduled for the next volume, which is already in hardback, and although I don’t expect things to go completely smoothly I don’t think we can wait much longer (and I’m sure Tybalt can’t) since we’re now at volume 15…

Seasons: Psycops Briefs Volume Two by Jordan Castillo Price***** Victor Bayne just gets better and better too. These are short stories set at various points between the main novels. Absolutely marvellous but probably not accessible to people who haven’t followed the series. Victor and Jacob are a fascinating couple, both in their own right and because of their paranormal abilities.

The highly recommended:

Life Lessons by Kaje Harper**** Crime story with mm romance and a cop in the closet. Have bought the sequel.

Saving Ziggy by Alex Adams**** Dark mm about physically and emotionally damaged Ziggy in Liverpool. I didn’t enjoy the story but it was well written.

Dance with me, also by Alex Adams**** Quite exciting mm romance plus danger set in Chester (near me and rarely featured in books…) Will definitely get the sequel.

The Fairy Shop by Tara Lain**** Very sweet and magical mm romance with a delighful child centre stage.

Lessons in Keeping a Dangerous Promise by Charlie Cochrane**** The Cambridge Fellows mysteries are always worth reading but by now I suspect the reader needs to start with an earlier volume. Here the pair deal with a wartime promise to clear someone’s name.

All Hallows Eve by Annabel Jacobs**** An mm romance that is at risk from an ancestral ghost. By turns sweet and creepy! I should have read this at Halloween but it got forgotten…

The readable:

Home for a cowboy by Amy Aislin*** I dithered about the stars for this. It was beautifully written but it was just a nice romance with no added mystery, magic or mayhem. However, if you like ‘just’ romance, this comes recommended.

Normal Life by Si Clarke*** To be fair, this is just some short scenes as a prequel to the lovely sci fi novels. If you haven’t started those, don’t bother with this as although it makes sense it doesn’t have much point taken out of context. Good writing.

The abandoned:

Rainbow Rodeo by BA Tortuga Abandoned – we met about ten people in the first few pages, all without adequate introduction or description. My head was spinning. It could well be a good story if you can get into it.

Apparently I read no fanfic in February and I have no idea why.

New authors read in February

Early iris in Portugal, photoshopped a bit…

That’s authors new to me, not new authors, of course. Three highly recommended and two not!

The Apothecary’s Garden by Julie Bozza***** Totally delightful. For once, I’ve given five stars to something that is basically ‘just a romance’. It’s quite different – vast age gap, very slow burn, set against restoration of a mediaeval herb garden.

Foxes by Suki Fleet***** Eek!! Five stars for the totally brilliant writing. Death, abuse, life on the street, attempted suicide… I was so traumatised I couldn’t quite cope with the HFN ending. If you are interested in the themes, go ahead but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

A Walrus and a Gentleman by Emmeline Strange **** Unusual shifter romance. The romance angle was sweet. The shifter was, yes, a walrus…

Murder at St Annes by JR Ellis*** Some poor writing and a bizarre crime in Knaresborough. I dithered about just 2 stars but the writing was sort of competent and I suppose the mystery is worth it for some readers.

Waiting for love by Sam Kraemer. Abandoned. I wasn’t keen on the main plot line which was following a weight loss camp, and the writing style wasn’t to my taste – it might appeal to others.