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.

An upcoming sale, and February’s television

header pic courtesy of Smashwords

The annual Smashwords Read-an-e-book week starts on Saturday 6th. This time I’ve put the first volume in each of my series into the sale. That means that for a week, Growing Up Fae and The Scroll are free on Smashwords.

Growing up Fae is the first in a four volume fae saga that has plenty of mm, mf and ff romance and lots of adventure.

The Scroll is the first in a six volume fantasy series that follows a trainee detective in an elf kingdom. She has two sidekicks, her gay brother who provides the romance sub plot, and a young dragon.

Please note that all volumes in both series are full length novels. I suspect the low pricing I’ve gone for so far might have made people think they were either novellas or YA so I’ll be looking to put the prices up soon. If you’ve thought about trying them, now’s the moment! There’s more information about both series under the books and buy links tab.

I’m currently working on a new fae saga in a completely different ‘verse.

Meanwhile, I’ve been watching TV quite a lot on February’s long dark evenings.

I’d recommend most of these – they should all still be available.

Death in Paradise *****(bbc iPlayer) I’m not that keen on cosy mystery books but I adore this series with its exotic location and the way it lets little known actors shine.

The Romantics and us with Simon Schama****(bbc iPlayer) Some newish information about some artists though plenty of stuff I already knew. Well presented of course. Note that Desperate Romantics***** is also currently on iPlayer and I loved that series. I had the DVD but am not sure whether it survived Portugal.

Trigger Point**** (itv hub). Some silly plot devices but Vicky McClure is awesome as always and there were times when the suspense was so great I had to cover my eyes.

Mary Beard’s Forbidden Art****(bbc iPlayer) I don’t think she always understands what causes people to dislike a piece of art or be offended by it. She speculates from her own reactions. For example I can’t cope with looking at illustrations of violence because they make me feel the subjects’ pain, not because I think they’re inappropriate subjects for art. There’s enough violence in the news without looking at it as art.

The Green Planet – David Attenborough**** (bbc iPlayer) I tend to fall asleep to the eye candy. I thought the last programme on plants in cities was the most interesting. It kept me awake, anyway.

The Impressionists: Painting and Revolution**** (bbc iPlayer). Some lovely insights into the lives (and locations) of the impressionists. I’ve visited Giverny but was hazy about some of the others.

This one wasn’t really worth the four hours I spent on it.

No Return***(itv hub). A lot of questionable plot points in this story of a family holiday gone horribly wrong (teenager arrested for rape of another boy) and the acting didn’t lift it out of the ordinary.

I’m still watching:

Dogs Behaving Very Badly Ch5

The Responder BBC

This is going to hurt.BBC

The Great Pottery Throwdown Ch4

and we’re thinking about The Promise BBC

Something I hate – warning, rant approaching.

A pet hate

I have eyesight problems. Apart from needing reading glasses this doesn’t usually cause me any angst or bother. However, I find it almost impossible to read text that is not in strong contrast to its background. Over the last few months I have lost patience with grey on white, dark brown on very deep cream, and, worst of all, white on yellow or pale blue. Yesterday I gave up with some white on light green. At best, it’s a strain, and at worst, it makes the thing unreadable. The header pic shows an example, currently in my fridge.

Sometimes I can just play with the text, bolding it, enlarging it, or altering the colour. That works most of the time online. Sadly, it isn’t an option in the kitchen, where I found myself trying to read cooking times in the aforementioned white on yellow on a packet. Even a strong magnifying glass didn’t help.

Why do manufacturers and website designers do it? Sometimes, I suppose, it might look pretty, though I’d have thought the benefits of the consumer or potential consumer being able to read the text would outweigh merely decorative issues.

I can only suppose that ‘they’ are all people with perfect vision, and that their families and significant others (and colleagues) share their good fortune. Or perhaps they use spectacles but have never found contrast to be a problem.

A friend’s blog turned up in grey on green. I asked her about it and she said it was the site’s choice and she hadn’t been able to change it… Fortunately, she gives virtually the same information on FB and in her newsletter.

I know I’m not alone. I know it isn’t by any means just age that brings with it difficulties dealing with coloured text. We (the sufferers) are not among the blind or almost blind, for whom different leaflets, programs, etc. have to be designed. We simply need glasses and clear reading material. Is it really too much to ask for?

January reading: familiar writers

Icicles in a German street one January.

Recommended:

Romance, mostly mm, and with other elements:

Memories by Ruby Moone**** Well written historical thriller with a lot of excitement. A hussar returning from Waterloo finds himself declared dead and his inheritance sold. But his memories are also missing after severe injury.

One Trick Pony by Eli Easton**** I love this author’s work and at first I thought this was just another sweet romance (I prefer her paranormal books) but it ended up quite exciting with a kidnap and rescue.

The Beauty Within by HL Day **** A historical twist on Beauty and the Beast and The Frog Prince. I found myself suspending disbelief and reading avidly.

Painting with Fire by Lissa Kasey**** A lovely story involving abuse survival, doll painting, and fire fighting. Slightly marred by some careless proof reading e.g. at times it was clear the story had initially been written in first person and then changed.

His Shield by Sue Brown**** The writer ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable degree and yet when the attacks come they arrive with a sense of shock. I loved all the three dimensional minor characters and will definitely read the sequel.

Moon’s Place by Blake Allwood**** Novella that is lifted from the ‘just a sweet romance’ level by the three dimensionality of the minor characters and the place itself. Obviously a shorter work can’t contain the same amount of excitement and mystery as, for example, the Big Bend series, but the story is well told and satisfying. I now want to visit the orange grove and the shop. Short stories and novellas definitely need exceptional writing to raise them to the four star level!

Life in the Land by Rebecca Cohen.**** Short, quirky romance with unusual magic. A family has hereditary abilities to interact magically with plants. Another beautifully written story.

Crime:

Still Life by Val McDermid**** Good thriller, well written as usual, but I guessed both crime scenarios before the detectives got there.

Readable but not special:

A Soldier’s Wish by N R Walker*** So over-sweet it made my teeth ache.

Cowboys don’t come out by Tara Lain*** Very pleasant and well written romance but in the end that’s all it was.

Pickup Men by LC Chase*** Another pleasant and well written cowboy romance with well developed characters but there’s no added element of mystery or drama.

Careful What You Wish For by Helena Stone*** Identical twins, one dead and one alive…

Fated Hearts by Garrett Leigh*** The story was adequately gripping but although I like shifters, war stories don’t really appeal to me and that’s what this was. Also, although it was set in UK the details of the locations were sadly hazy. The war, I should add, was a shifter one, not a human affair. Part of the Shadow Bound series which I won’t be reading despite the fact that Leigh is an excellent writer.

Not recommended:

Raising Kaine by Lissa Kasey** This novella is intended as an introduction to a series but manages to be totally confusing because the world building and character development don’t keep pace with the plot. The magic was interesting but lacked any explanation or back story. Seiran, apparently an avatar of the Green Man, helps to prevent a pipeline from going through Reservation lands, with the help of a powerful Fae. Topical, but weird. I usually like this author so I was disappointed.

Broken Wings by EM Lindsey (Book 3 of Broken Chains) This was advertised as a stand-alone but I was mystified and abandoned it. Also, I disliked the main characters so can’t be bothered to read previous volumes to clarify the plot.

The Pool Boy by Rachel Ember. It’s perhaps unfair to class this as not recommended. I downloaded it as free short story but didn’t read it once I’d read the blurb. I have no idea whether it’s good but the subject matter wasn’t for me. (Explicit d/s with rope.) However, she’s a good writer so if that’s your jam, try it!

Fanfic

Mouselet saves the day by Small_Hobbit***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/35920900 Only 573 words but a treasured gift fic for me, set in this writer’s Sherlock AU with talking animals. I also enjoyed John’s New Pet**** which was very short but very clever. https://archiveofourown.org/works/36383947

My gift was part of Twelve Additional Days of Christmas which covers various fandoms and can be found at

https://archiveofourown.org/series/2646262

The Christmas Cat by fledge ***** A verse rendering (based on The Night before Christmas) of a story for Supernatural fandom. So far, it’s only on the challenge LJ but I think it should be viewable. I’m not an SPN fan but the author happens to be my daughter! She also writes on AO3 as Fledhyris, so I hope she’ll upload this there. https://spn-bigpretzel.livejournal.com/1499453.html

Colorblind by blackchaps*** AU SGA where everybody wears a different coloured collar to show their sexual status. From the author’s notes I gather this was an early fic. https://archiveofourown.org/works/14993054

The Sweep of Easy Wind by blackchaps*** Semi au SGA/SG1 – military use Go’uald tech on military prisoners. John/Rodney. Probably needs full familiarity with both shows to make sense. https://archiveofourown.org/works/785073

Pros Big Bang (October 2021)

Eight stories, of varying quality, but even the ones I enjoyed needed total familiarity with canon to be understood properly so I won’t go into details. For those of you who are familiar with Pros, you can find the collection, both stories and art, on

https://archiveofourown.org/collections/Pros_Big_Bang_2021

Once upon a riverbank: a free story for Valentine’s Day on Monday.

This short mm romance is set in my fae ‘verse. It is very loosely linked to Living Fae in the sense that Harlequin, the main narrator of that series, visited Australia and met one of the characters briefly in one of the volumes. But these are Australian fae, living near the Murray river, north east of Adelaide in South Australia and they are not normally in touch with their British counterparts. I have visited some of the locations I describe, and my account of the wildfires owes much to my own knowledge of the Portuguese fires as well as to my Australian friends’ experiences. So I placed my paranormal romance in a very real.setting. Murray wants to ask Morgan to marry him but the right time for a proposal never seems to arise then events overtake them. Despite the worries about the fires I can assure readers there is a HEA ending to this tale.

I am extremely grateful to my editor, MA Naess. She lives in South Australia and kept an eagle eye on all aspects of the story. I got very confused over the correct usage for Big Bend, partly because I’d just been reading Blake Allwood’s romance series set in the US location known as Big Bend. I made the cover pic/post header based on a photograph by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash.

You’ll find the story under the Free Stuff tab. It’s currently the last in the list. (They are not in publishing order but divided by type and as I said, this falls in my fae ‘verse.) Enjoy!.

Reading unfamiliar authors

…and yes, we keep our fairy lights up all year round.

Authors new to me: 11 this month, with 9 of them worth reading.

Non fiction:

Unthinkable by Helen Thomson**** Sub-title: An extraordinary journey through the world’s strangest brains. Fascinating but… The author is a neuro scientist by training and a journalist by profession. I could have done with either less or more neuro science and a lot more detailed psychology. I found the book particularly interesting when it dealt with aspects of synesthesia which I have to a certain extent. Now I think I know why I can’t watch violent films. (This was a requested birthday present for my husband.)

The Prosecutor by Nazir Afzal**** Fascinating autobiographical account of Afzal’s life which recounts the setting up and growth of the Crown Prosecution Service. As a lawyer by training and as a resident of Greater Manchester where Afzal saw the retirement end of a long and illustrious career, I was looking forward to this book and thrilled when it went into e-book format. It did not disappoint – but I could have done with a timeline because Afzal’s account of events is sometimes confusing.

Science for Hippies by Tom Thumb*** I assume it’s a pen name… Well written explanation of why people should not believe things like anti-vax conspiracies. However, I was not the target audience. Husband thought it was useful (it was bought by him) but then he has friends who believe in conspiracies of one kind or another whereas I don’t. If you do have friends, family or neighbours who need to listen to rational arguments this is for you. It is good, in that it doesn’t start from the premise that people might be stupid and it doesn’t preach.

Beginner Diwali Burfi Recipes by Monica Sawyer – stars on hold till I’ve tried some, but the instructions are clear and look easy enough.

Speculative and paranormal general fiction

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth Book 1) by NK Jemisin*** SF/fantasy which I bought partly because it had a black author and I and others were trying to promote them, but also because it had awards and rave reviews. Brilliant world building and the story is absorbing with nteresting and subtle social commentary. However, as with a lot of general SF, it has two dimensional characters – despite one thread being written in second person(which is quite hard to read and must be very hard to write). I might get the sequel.

The Tunnels Below by Nadine Wild-Palmer.** This got rave reviews as a book for teens that incorporated diversity. Yes, there were, as reviewers said, ‘vibes of Neil Gaiman and Lewis Carroll’ but the writing is second rate, the plot is derivative and the characters were mostly annoying. If you have teens, point them at e.g. Gaiman’s Neverwhere before they read this. And at Terry Pratchett’s Dodger. (Then get them to compare…)

Speculative and paranormal mm fiction

An Irregular Arrangement by AL Lester***** Short story introducing the author’s ‘border universe’. Intriguing, quirky and very well written. The Fog of War***** is the first full length novel in the series which I will definitely be following. There are both mm and ff pairings,

Medium to Well by Edie Montreux*** A medium helps to tone down a haunting. Rather repetitive at times as if the author didn’t quite believe the reader would recall the previous chapters.

Red’s Wolf by Beth Laycock*** Nicely told modern version of Red Riding Hood set just north of Manchester. Could have done with being longer.

Master of Hounds by RA Steffan** (Book1) If I hadn’t had so many recs from friends I might have abandoned this. The story is nice enough (mm romance in a fantasy kingdom) but the world building is very poor and all the myriad minor characters are completely two dimensional stereotypes. I won’t be continuing.

Historical mm fiction

The Ballad of Crow and Sparrow by VI Locey**** Western with nice detail about life in the wilderness in the nineteenth century.

Just a little wickedness by Merry Farmer*** Poor editing, Americanisms and some plot holes. But the basic story – a viscount/valet romance in the Victorian era, mixed with the ‘modern’ slave trade (children) was enough to keep me reading. I won’t, however, be looking for this author again.

What I watched in January 2022

The picture shows Plitvice National Park from a Croatian holiday website. It’s in the Monty Don programmes.

Hidden Assets ***** All4. Irish/Flemish thriller. The Irish and Belgians have clearly been watching Scandi Noir and decided to join in. I’m really hoping for another season.

Monty Don’s Adriatic Gardens**** BBC iPlayer. Lovely gardens and plants, and some fascinating details about hidden aspects of places like Venice.

The Bay Season 3 **** ITVhub. The Morecambe based police show seems to have got well into its stride despite some new faces. Another interesting mystery.

Death of Andy Warhol- Autopsy: The Last Hours of Andy Warhol BBC4****. Interesting look a the death of someone famous through the eyes of pathologists.

Maya Angelou on Robert Burns**** BBC4 (1996) A lovely watch for Burns Night. Maya visited Scotland and interacted/performed with some native Burns fans.

Race and Medical Experiments: What’s the Truth **** All4. Seyi Rhodes looks at the history of US and UK problem experiments which have contributed to vaccine hesitancy.

I also half watched the following, but kept falling asleep so can’t give adequate reviews:

Martin Clunes: Islands of the Pacific. ITV Hub – beautiful look at French Polynesia in ep 1

Tyrant. Amazon. Very violent as well as interesting but I kept closing my eyes, which was fatal

The Dark Woods. More4. German Noir. I lost track of events and characters.

I’m continuing to watch the following:

The Green Planet BBC1

The Great Pottery Throwdown Ch4

Dogs behaving very badly Ch5

The Impressionists BBC4

Death in Paradise BBC1

Vera ITV

Peston ITV

PMQs BBC Parliament

And, when husband gets home from an extended trip:

The Responder BBC1

Trigger Point BBC1

Easy savoury tarte tatin

(from a photo by Bob Bowie on Unsplash)

This is a really easy vegetarian recipe

You need:

*Tomatoes – cherry, halved, or if using larger, thickly sliced. Tinned will not work for this.

*Onion – any, sliced or roughly chopped then softened gently in a frying pan.

You can use either tomatoes or onions or both. Quantities are flexible but see method and adjust for your pan. Leftovers will keep in the fridge to add to easy mince…

*Bought puff pastry. (All the TV chefs tell you to use bought puff and filo pastry.)

*Butter (35g)

*Sugar (25g). Granulated or caster. Brown might be interesting.

*Balsamic vinegar (2 tablespoons)

*Herbs and seasoning

Method:

Roll out the pastry to fit the pan you are using plus a little extra diameter. Do this first, before getting things hot.

Turn on the oven to pre-heat. I use 180C and mine is supposed to be a fan oven, but you know your oven best.

In a pan that will go on the hob and in the oven, melt the butter, sugar and vinegar, stirring, until they caramelise. Be careful because caramel is very hot – this is not a recipe to suggest to your child who is just learning to cook. It’s really easy but needs adult handling!

Now turn the heat right down and place the tomatoes/onions in the caramel. You need a single layer with as few gaps as possible. Cherry tomatoes make a very pretty tarte. Onion is good at filling in the spaces. Make it decorative if you feel that way inclined but watch your fingers on that caramel. Sprinkle with chosen herbs and seasoning.

Place your pastry shape on top, Tuck down the extra using a spoon, maybe the one you measured the vinegar with and/or stirred the caramel. Make a couple of slits in the pastry to act as vents.

Bake for about 35/40 minutes.

You now need to turn this out onto a plate. Place the plate over the pan and use oven gloves to invert the entire thing. You might need to go round the edge of the pastry with a knife beforehand in case the sticky caramel has stuck it to the sides of the pan.

That’s it. Delicious. Serve with e.g. potatoes or bread and maybe coleslaw or a green salad.