Books I read in July

The buddleia has almost taken over our front garden and I would like it pruned but in July the flowers are spectacular.

Quite a few books last month. I finally got my tbr list under control – yes, there are still some fairly ‘heavy’ books in waiting, but I allowed myself to buy a few by favourite authors, download some freebies and also borrow some titles from the Amazon Prime library.

There were more excellent titles than usual, partly because I was buying favourites, but the Prime library had some winners this time too. The five star books are all highly recommended.

And the mountains echoed by Khaled Hosseini***** Sweeping story of Afghan diaspora which is gripping but huge cast makes it hard to identify with any particular characters, even the brother and sister forcibly parted in the first section. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first two in the series, but it was still a great read and I was glad I’d requested it as a Christmas present.

The Bridge on the River Wye by Adam Fitzroy***** Exciting mystery romance with plenty of police and amateur investigation as Rupert tries to help Jake with his organic farm. Great minor characters. Example of a freebie that will send me looking for more by this author.

Taking Stock by A.L. Lester***** Growing relationship between a man forced out of a London company and a farmer who has had a stroke and is recovering. I loved the details, the farming community, the minor characters, and the way the sex was left right to the end.

The Gilded Scarab by Anna Butler***** Steampunk AU London 1900. Boer war with planes. British Museum. Fabulous!

Plain Jane Wanted by Rose Amberly***** Perfect beach/holiday read. (Sunny garden in my case.) An mf romance set in the Channel Isles. (Prime Library.)

The Bone Jar by SW Kane***** Outwardly a police procedural that starts intriguingly and ends with a great deal of excitement. First in a series featuring DI Kirby and I might read others because it was well written, but I won’t seek them out because the detective was the least interesting of the characters. (Prime Library.)

Stop Cock by JL Merrow***** Another great addition to the Plumber’s Mate series. Tom and Phil are on their honeymoon in Sorento but of course crime comes along to upset their plans. First buy after dealing with my tbr list. I’d had it on my to buy list for ages!

Trench Warfare by Fiona Glass***** Great mm thriller with paranormal elements set on (in?) an archaeological dig. Gripping and entertaining. I wanted it to be longer and would love to read another dig/mystery with these characters. The archaeology details were fascinating.

Then there were the very good.

Family Unit by ZA Maxfield**** An mm romance/thriller featuring the attempted abduction of a child by it’s biological parent. A good story that lost a star because there was too much explicit sex when it furthered neither plot nor character development.

In the Shadow of the Wolf by RJ Scott and Diane Adams**** Three interlinked shortish novels dealing with cops and conspiracies in a wolf/human society.Shattered Secrets/Broken Memories/Splintered Lies. Satisfying and engrossing but since it was just, in the end, the one ‘case’ I wanted more which won’t happen because Rob, the human ‘alpha’ of the mixed team, is no longer a cop. I liked the world building and the exploration of the psychology of the wolves, through an examination of their romances, mm and mf.

Muscling Through by JL Merrow**** Interesting relationship between a handsome academic and a sinister looking working guy. Perhaps not quite long enough to make five stars.

Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe**** An interesting historical read – rumours, quacks, angels and ghosts, arguments about methods of isolation, attempts to escape lockdown, etc. So different from our modern world and yet nothing ever changes! (Available free online.)

Isle of Where by Sue Brown**** A nice (and well written) mm romance rather spoilt by too much explicit sex that furthered neither character development nor plot. Setting it on the Isle of Wight made it sort of Brit but exotic…A freebie to introduce her series but as she clearly caters to the ‘more sex please’ market I probably won’t read more.

Don’t Lie to Me by Willow Rose**** Competent thriller set in Florida. I enjoyed it but not to the extent of seeking out the rest of the Eva Rae Thomas mysteries. (Prime library.)

And finally there were a couple of readable but probably forgettable ones.

Catastrophe by Deirdre O’Dare*** A shifter story centred on a zoo threatened by animal rights activists. Some less than stellar writing and the minor characters were almost wallpaper but the plot was exciting enough to keep me reading.

A Poison Tree by JE Mayhew*** Intriguing plot – pity about the characters and the world building. Set on the Wirral and because that’s almost ‘local’ I was interested. This police procedural is book 1 in a series but I won’t bother with it. (Prime Library.)

Nothing poor or dire this month and nothing abandoned.

What I watched in July

Season of ripe grass and violent hay fever…

There were some interesting things to watch in July

Black Space***** Israeli cop drama centred round a high school shooting. Excellent acting and direction. On Netflix in 8 episodes and hopefully there will be another season. Thoroughly deserves the good reviews. (May be Blackspace – I’m never sure how to search correctly as I’ve seen both versions in reviews.)

Black Spot Seasons 1 and 2 ***** (Netflix.) The ending wasn’t a cliff hanger but we could really do with another season to answer some questions and get some of the characters into a more satisfactory place. Think Twin Peaks but in the eastern forested mountains of France. For those who don’t like subtitles there is an English language version. Disturbing and gripping with paranormal elements, violence and occasional humour. Each episode has a solved crime, but the paranormal stuff is in the over-arc plot. The original title is Zone Blanche; the area has poor phone signals which is part of the problem faced by the police.

Katla **** (Netflix again) Icelandic noir (aka horror) watched out of the corner of my eye because husband had it on. In a town destroyed by a volcanic erruption, people start to reappear… I suppose it deserves at least four stars for acting, direction, etc. but it wasn’t quite my scene! I went to bed before the end of the last episode but my husband updated me on the plot resolution.

Nordic Murders Season 2 *** (More 4.) I loved season 1 of this police drama set on the island of Usedom in northern Germany on the Polish border. But in season 2 the lead detective has been written out (in the first episode) and this means we are left with a new and less convincing lead, and a gap in the intriguing family dynamics that underpinned the first season. As a result, I started to get bored and regard it as being mainly about the scenery. I don’t grudge the actress if she needed to leave – if she didn’t, I think the writers made a mistake.

Fanfic read in June

I love irises. For some reason our yellow ones have vanished this year (slugs?) but the purple/blue ones have been beautiful.

Some really good stories this month (or rather, last, because I know we’re now nearing the end of July).

Absolutely fabulous and highly recommended:

Save me by Brumeier***** SGA AU novel. Rodney inherits a haunted mansion. John is the caretaker. Cameo parts for others. Exciting and interesting plot. https://archiveofourown.org/works/1591586

Poisons by silverr***** Gorgeous crime ff with aliens. Original work. 21k. Set in the world of The Taitaja. The author archives all her work on AO3, both fanfic and original. http://archiveofourown.org/work/16122698

Spoonful of Sunday by pushkin666 and MistressKat***** QI rpf https://archiveofourown.org/works/9322742 Wonderful coffee shop style romance set in Nottingham.

Worth reading:

Throw off the bowlines by Brumeier**** Rodney buys a second hand sex bot expecting to harvest it for parts. A different take on the discovery of Atlantis. https://archiveofourown.org/works/27766168

The role of Primordial Amino Acids in the Evolution of Sentience by silverr**** Sweet ff short story (9594 words) about a robot and the human who finds it. Better, in my opinion, than Murderbot. Not really fanfic but uses fanfic tropes and was written for a challenge. http://archiveofourown.org/works/19082290

Ray Doyle’s Cottage Garden Diary by Boothros**** Only on LJ. Lovely writing but would probably only appeal to people with detailed knowledge of Pros. Later edit to add that the author told me it is now on AO3: https://archiveofourown.org/works/31944859

Also read:

Enshroud by Charlotte Frost*** S&H kidnap story. Not thrilling but quite nicely written. https://archiveofourown.org/works/1992753

In other fanfic ‘news’ I added to my Lewis/Harry Potter crossover series with a new episode featuring some clever work by Olive Owl. See my AO3 (moth2fic) for The Case of the Kidnapped Kobold.

June’s short stories (and my tbr list)

Usually they revert to standard colours but these aquilegia are beautifully two-toned.

In January I made a resolution: not to buy books or download freebies till my tbr list was under control. Mostly, I’ve stuck to my resolution with the occasional lapse in favour of something I desperately wanted that was on sale for a very short time. I’m pleased to report that now, mid July, I’m almost there…!

It has been interesting to deal with the list. I found things I’d downloaded with more enthusiasm than sense, and deleted them after re-reading the blurb. I’ve found some gems. I’ve ploughed through a number of short stories that have somehow all merged into one amorphous mass of reasonably well written light romance with, usually, too much explicit sex (mm and mf). I don’t want a lot of explicit sex before I really know the characters so I don’t honestly think the very short story is the place for it. Obviously it will appeal to some readers so good luck to the authors. It just isn’t for me.

I did find quite a lot of books I was able to abandon after a chapter or so and some that went unread after the first paragraph (and which I didn’t even bother to review or list). Sadly, a lot of these were in the fantasy and sci fi genres which I would have said were my favourites. Still, probably all down to the above mentioned enthusiasm.

It isn’t at all a case of free or cheap books being less worth reading. As I said, I found some really good reads. Nor is it a case of sticking to known authors – I have found some new favourites. Now that I’m almost at the book acquisition stage again I must be more careful. Perhaps the way to go is to download fewer at a time and really examine them before going for more.

In a way, it’s a bit like being faced with a library and taking out too many books at once because the covers are so appealing. I must be strict and ration myself! A book diet…

I’ve treated the short stories and novellas like an anthology, though one gathered by me rather than by an editor.

Here are the ones I read in June:

The only one I’d recommend:

Home Sweet Home by Clare London**** Not sure if this was a long short story or a short novella… Nice mm and well written.

The ones I quite enjoyed but can’t remember well…

Lessons for a lifetime by Hudson Lin.*** Sweet story about an ESL teacher and an immigrant .

Trex or Treat by Tara Lain*** Sweet halloween story.

Diplomacy of the heart by Mel Gough*** Bittersweet story of hospital worker (MSF) and diplomat thrown together in war-torn Liberia.

Tainted Life by Mel Gough*** An mm romance with thriller elements. Could benefit from being written as a novel rather than a novella.

Flour, Eggs, Sugar, Magic by Daniel de Lorne*** Well written mm story about magic that goes wrong.

The Mistaken Fiance by Kim Katil*** Quite a nice twist to the fake boyfriend trope but not particularly memorable.

The Bogus Boyfriend by Rebecca James*** Another fake boyfriend trope and again not memorable.

Then the ones I thought were poor and that I’d wasted my time:

Murder by Android by JJ Toner** Maybe if Asimov had written it…

Yours truly, your soldier by Kaci Rose** Sickly sweet m/f romance and no drama. Too much sex.

Executive Decision by Alice Archer** Weird story about a stonemason and a CEO. Not really a clear plot.

Lone Cowboy by Inge Mayhem** Initially interesting, though short, then ended on a cliff hanger with the main character as a criminal. Wouldn’t bother reading the next in the series.

Want you bad by Lynn Michaels** Demons never appeal to me.

And one that annoyed me a little:

The First Door by KP Maxwell. Fantasy. Turned out to be a prequel with a cliffhanger. No stars. That’s a sneaky form of advertising but I suppose if people buy the series it’s worth the author’s while. I’d have been really annoyed if I’d paid, but it was a freebie so *shrugs* No stars.!

Expect another batch next month! I have now got all my backlog at least uploaded to my kindle…

How I learnt not to fear moussaka

I used to be afraid of moussaka. Not the dish itself, which I really enjoyed, but the idea of cooking it. To begin with, it was ‘foreign’ cookery and I didn’t have all the ingredients and methods handily translated into English (let alone the temperatures, quantities, etc.) and then there was the fact that my husband visited Greece numerous times as a teenager and considered himself an expert whereas I had only ever come across moussaka in restaurants. It seemed to be quite wildly complicated.

Nowadays, with the internet as my guide, things are much easier and I recently learnt how very very easy it is to produce moussaka that, if not totally authentic, tastes good and doesn’t even take that long to make. Or at least, it’s made in stages which can be quite far apart meaning you don’t need to spend all morning or afternoon in the kitchen, so it doesn’t feel as if you’ve taken long.

Start with mince. Any mince will do even though lamb is traditional. Vegetarians can substitute whatever ‘fake’ mince they use. Fry it with onions and tomato puree. If you have some left over from e.g. spaghetti bolognese that’s fine, too even if it has more additives such as peppers or mushrooms but don’t have too much liquid around. Make sure garlic is involved. Then add a generous pinch of cinnamon, a herb such as basil, oregano or coriander and some mint. I tend to use a teaspoon of mint sauce (home made or shop bought). Add a couple of bay leaves. Stir in a spoonful of plain flour to thicken – it should be a lot more solid than what you would want for e.g. bolognese. Set the mixture aside. Set it aside for an entire day if you like (in the fridge, of course).

Now slice an aubergine fairly thinly. Salt it and put it in a colander over a bowl or plate. Leave it for at least half an hour; longer is better. You can do anything else – even non-kitchen tasks – while you wait because vegetables are not known for trying to run away.

Make a cheese sauce. Use whatever method suits you – by the time it’s all finished nobody will know whether you made a tradition roux or got a jar of white sauce granules as your base. I’ve done both and I promise this is true. Let it cool (as with the aubergine, you can wander away) then once it’s cool add a beaten egg and some grated nutmeg, mixing them in thoroughly. I tend to make the sauce and slice the aubergine in the same session but you don’t have to.

Drain and rinse the aubergine then put it in the base of a casserole dish (i.e one that will go in a hot oven) and at this point if you have any pre-cooked potato slices lingering in the fridge you can add those too. Some Greek cooks do and some don’t.

Spoon the mince mixture on top of the aubergine.

Pour or spoon the cheese/egg sauce and make sure it covers the other ingredients. Then sprinkle more cheese on top – grated parmesan is good and again, you can use a convenience type.

Put it in a medium hot oven for about forty minutes. You can go away again at this point.

The recipes mostly suggest leaving it to cool a little before serving, to help set the mixture and keep the layers nicely separated. Whoever gets a portion with a bay leaf in it is welcome to discard the leaf and just enjoy the flavour. If you didn’t add potato you might want to serve some separately or perhaps provide some crusty bread.

If you have any left over (we don’t) I’m sure it would keep well in the fridge. I haven’t given quantities because all families (and appetites) differ but as a rough guide I use one aubergine, and the quantity of cheese sauce I’d use for cauliflower cheese. That, with some mince, makes enough for two greedy people.

Easy and tasty. Greek? Maybe not, but a lot of recipes travel round the world and don’t take any harm by being tweaked here and there. This can clearly be tweaked for vegetarians and possibly for vegans, but can’t be made kosher unless there’s a non-milk sauce option. I assume you could use one of the plant-based milks but I have no real idea how they work in recipes.

Novels read in June

It’s a pity peonies are so fragile and short-lived. Still, they’re glorious while they last.

June was a good month for novels, a lot of them read in the garden, near the peony!

Highly recommended:

Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré*****

This is le CarrĂ©’s last book, published or at least ready for publication shortly before his death last year. The title is slightly puzzling till you realise it should read something like ‘agent-running: in the field’. It’s an absorbing novel about spies and spying rather than about a specific incident, though there’s a very specific new agent in view. Excellent writing and an exciting conclusion. Recommended. (This was a requested Christmas present though it took me ages to get round to reading it.)

Cinder by Marie Sexton*****

A really lovely mm version of Cinderella. If you like alternative fairy tales this is one to treasure.

Job Hunt by Jackie Keswick*****

The first of the Power of Zero books to take place once Jack is grown up. This is the one that begins Jack’s relationship with Gareth and tells how they found Nico and Dan. The whole series, based around a found family theme, is full of intriguing characters with amazing back stories. I had read the books about Jack’s teenage years and was delighted (though not really surprised) to find this one just as good.

Recommended:

Spencer Cohen by NR Walker**** (Spencer Cohen series 1)

A lovely start to a new series by a really good author. I shall be following this series about Spencer, who plays ‘new lover’ to help finalise decisions about relationships.

The bucket list by RJ Scott****

A slightly too sweet story about Jason coming to terms with his brother’s death, helped by his blossoming relationship with Mark. Did Andrew mean them to get together? I enjoy RJ Scott’s writing.

The Gardener and the Marine by RJ Scott.****

Possibly a novella rather than a novel, first published as a serial in her weekly newsletter. A nice look at PTSD and memory loss. I looked forward to the weekly updates and I think she is going to publish it as a ‘whole’.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen**** (re-read).

Not my favourite Austen. I hadn’t re-read it for years and wondered why; I couldn’t quite remember the plot. The social commentary is as sharp as ever and the details are fascinating, but I don’t empathise with the heroine who is too good (and prudish) to be true and I don’t like the way the final romance is told rather than shown, in haste in the final chapter.

Marked by death by Kaje Harper****

An excellent story about magic users Darien and Silas. Misses five stars simply because of the focus on demons which don’t really appeal to my reading tastes – for anyone who likes them, go for this!

Accused by Leona Windwalker****

Space, aliens, mpreg, slavery etc. etc. However, I was so curious to know what happened to Matty and Duane that I also read Judged, the sequel. Lots of space opera and I think the series is ongoing but I got tired of the eventually saccharine alien/human relationships and decided the ending of book 2 was sufficiently satisfactory.

Chance to be King by Sue Brown****

A good mm romance story with thriller elements. I must say I always like romance novels to have something else as well. Well written.

Readable:

Lost and found by Rick R Reed***

A sweet story about a dog that is lost and found; in the process he brings Flynn and Mac together despite a rocky start. Barley (a.k.a Hamburger) steals the show.

Wild Retaliation by Ethan Stone***

A shifter cop thriller which is something that I usually enjoy but this was a bit too short so that we didn’t really get to know the characters. The case was interesting but there were not nearly enough clues for the reader to follow.

I didn’t read anything dire in June but I did give up on a few books, not because of the way they were written but because the contents didn’t appeal to me.

Abandoned:

Hunger makes the wolf by Alex Wells.

Sci fi but still an army/mercenary story. Not for me and I gave up fairly quickly. I think I’d expected a shifter story…

A Magical Team by Edward Kendrick.

A police team of magic users dedicated to catching criminals who evade normal capture. Boring and slightly distasteful – they seemed about as bad as the villains.

The Intersect by Brad Graber.

A novel about the way lives intersect. It’s a theme that can be fantastic (e.g. Girl, Woman, Other) but I found all the characters in this totally boring and abandoned them.

Some TV I watched in June

Nothing says ‘June’ better in UK than the cow parsley in the hedgerows. It’s like driving through froth and I just wish it lasted!

TV this month seems to have concentrated on politics and sport, but here are a few things I’ve watched that don’t fall under those headings.

King Arthur’s Britain: The Truth Unearthed**** This was on BBC4 with Alice Roberts. I love the Arthur legends and it was good to hear some historical and archaeological explanations for some of them. I also like Alice Roberts as a presenter. I assume it’s on BBC iPlayer for the moment.

Stonehenge: the lost circle revealed**** This turned out to be a re-watch. I think first time around (about six months ago) I was concentrating on the work in West Wales and missed or forgot the bits about the actual circle present today. Professor Alice Roberts again. It’s currently on BBC iPlayer.

Innocent Season 2**** A woman is cleared after a prison term for murder. So who did it? Set in the Lake District and well directed/acted but this was another show with a surprise ending. A lot of people like to be able to follow clues during a murder mystery – there weren’t any here. We wanted to watch Season 1 but by the time we realised they’d moved it from ITV Hub (where we saw this) to Britbox, which is a subscription too far.

Deadwind Season 1*** A Finnish contribution to Scandi Noir. Interesting plot with environmentalists, family feuds, etc. Pity about the direction (poor), the acting (also poor) and the final resolution of the initial murder case which was something no viewer could have guessed so felt like a cheat. Also, do Finns or Icelanders ever smile? I know they do because I have a Finnish friend, but going by their film output you would doubt it. On Netflix. I don’t think we’ll bother with any subsequent seasons but I quite enjoyed this one. So I’d recommend watching but would be interested to hear whether your reaction is the same as mine.

Free books in the Smashwords Sale!

The Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale runs from 1st to 31st July. I’ve made the first books in each of my two series free, and there’s a free short story. The rest of my books are at a huge discount of 50%.

So if you ever wondered about my books but were unsure about splashing out, now’s the time to try them! What have you got to lose? And if you like what you read, there’s a whole month to get the rest cheaply.

My fae series, Living Fae, is a kind of fae soap opera or family saga with various mm relationships and a few mf ones. The first book, Growing Up Fae, is told in diary form and follows Harlequin (who narrates the other three books) as he becomes an adult, moves to Alderley Edge in Cheshire (UK) and partners with Yarrow, leader of the local unicorn troop.

My fantasy detective series, The Skilled Investigators, has an elf detective heroine with, as sidekicks, her gay brother (the romance interest in the books) and a young dragon who is growing up among elves. The first book, The Scroll, sees Genef travel to the capital to start her training, with her brother, Fel, who is missing his lover from whom he was forcibly parted.

So: fantasy, urban and otherwise, with mythical creatures and lots of romance. The books are not often sexually explicit (though fairies do it flying) but there is plenty of emotional angst and UST and guaranteed eventual happy endings.

You can find details of all my books on my website, jaymountney.com but take care to follow the Smashwords links during July! You don’t need coupons – the site automatically discounts the books at checkout. And while you’re there, look for some of your other favourite authors!

May: a marvellous month for fanfiction

…as well as for the spring flowers in our garden!

Three fantastic long reads.

Death in Jericho by Fictionwriter***** This was written for me. The author is my beta/editor and another friend ‘won’ her services on our behalf in the auction for Fandom For Australia, then gifted my ‘share’ as a birthday present so it was a double gift. I was aware all along of what it involved – both plot and hard work. It’s a novel length steampunk au set in the Lewis fandom. The city of Oxford really lives in its alternate guise, with airships overhead, sewers and tunnels beneath, automata, street kids, murder and monsters. We were all thrilled with the result. Highly recommended and all you need to know is that Lewis and Hathaway are Oxford detectives. https://archiveofourown.org/works/31245704 65,900.

I’m with you by nagi_schwartz***** Another great novel. Evan and Radek from SGA are the main characters in a really gripping thriller that is part AU, part canon. Radek and his delightful niece (original character) are in danger and Evan, undercover and intending to protect them applies for the post of nanny. All you need to know is that Evan Lorne was US Air Force in the show and Radek was a scientist. https://archiveofourown.org/works/11949747

Lose a kraken, gain an angel by MistressKat***** A superb long short story set in the world of Good Omens – book and series. Humour, angst and hints of romance. For this one, you do need some familiarity with either the book or the series. https://archiveofourown.org/works/21370894

An interesting story from Brumeier.

Curious goods by Brumeier**** Crossover case fic: H5O/Friday 13th. This was a nice story but it might have helped to know the other fandom. I wasn’t sure of the cast of Friday 13th but for anyone who knows both shows I would recommend this. https://archiveofourown.org/works/27379387

And a fic that took ages to read but was in the end the least appealing of this month’s batch.

It takes a lot of water by compo67*** This is Supernatural RPF in an alternate universe but it wandered down tropes and byways galore. Jensen and Jared are the main characters in a gritty slavery fic, which then involves a.b.o. sex and mpreg, time travel, space travel and a theory about demonic ownership of planets. I was totally gripped by the plot but it had an unsatisfying ending and at 159k words I did think the writing could have been profitably edited to remove padding. https://archiveofourown.org/works/877759

Short stories read in May

A neighbour agreed to cut back their weeping willow because it was affecting another neighbour’s fish pond. We now have a rather strange view…

Short stories, of course, are not cut back novels but are works in their own right, or should be.

Contemporary Romance Collection Vol 2**** Mixed, as is usual for anthologies. I liked Fiona Glass’ Heat Haze (a clever ficlet about a young man’s fantasies), Jamie Miller’s His Fragile Heart, Emma Alcott’s YA The Asshole Next Door and The Art of Christmas by Louisa Masters. I didn’t read a couple that were clearly about ‘kinks’ that don’t appeal to me, and I found Sophia Soames’ Honest depressing though well written. Some of the contributions were novellas rather than short stories and I thought the collection as a whole was well chosen and guaranteed to have something to appeal to most readers but nothing truly outstanding.

Come in out of the rain by Clare London**** This was a sweet mm ficlet in Clare’s newsletter. I could feel the rain!

Boys in Brief by Clare London**** – a group of short stories by the same author, well written and entertaining, as usual.

Trials and Tribulations of Online Dating by Louisa Masters*** An mf story – competent but boring and predictable.

Cascades by Charley Descoteaux*** A story about two older men and a second chance at love. I would have liked more back story to develop the characters.

A Picture Perfect Holiday by ZA Maxfield*** An unmemorable holiday story, well written but with nothing particular to recommend it.

Always for you by Becca Seymour*** This turned out to be a glimpse of characters from another series which I don’t know. If you follow this author you might like the story.