I’m completely behind… it’s amazing what a knock-on effect a few days without a laptop has! I realised it was probably time I posted this before everything disappears from streaming services.
The Crimson Rivers season 3 **** (All4) I have no idea whether this is still available but every time they bring out a new season they load the first ones again. Great French detective drama with Parisian ‘experts’ sent to help out in the provinces when there are particularly strange murders, often with faintly paranormal overtones though the villains are usually all too human.
Some true crime: Married to a psychopath **** and Married to a Serial Killer ****. (iplayer) Not sure if these stories are exaggerated for dramatic effect but if completely true the innocents who trust the criminals must be hard pressed ever to trust anyone again.
My cat from hell***. We watched a couple of episodes of this (not altogether sure where) since Dogs Behaving Badly has finished for the time being. As with the English programme about dogs, this American cat version makes you realise the problems are usually the owners, not the animals. Amusing, and both series make you think hard about how we treat pets in general.
D I Ray*** (itv hub) Wooden acting and direction, and the plot was very predictable. I wasm however, really pleased to see institutional racism in the police force, and racism born of ignorance elsewhere given prime time TV drama and only hope this paves the way for better attempts to address the issues.
Late this month. I had a few days with a dead keyboard which really threw all my plans out of sync. Techie son in law tells me I don’t need a new laptop yet. It’s that last word I find ominous. Anyway, here we go with some of May’s reading.
New authors (new to me, anyway).
The excellent – a real ‘find’
Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree***** Gorgeous fantasy with a delicate ff romance between an orc and a succubus. The descriptions are fabulous with a focus on smell, touch, taste and hearing rather than sight. Apparently it’s the author’s first novel (he usually does the audio books for other people) and I really really hope there’ll be more. The world with its multi-species characters seems so real and grounded and the story was exciting. There’s the potential for sequels galore, perhaps with these characters and this location as background.
The Huntsmen by Tony Forder*** Competent and well written police procedural dealing with investigating a possible paedophile ring. I wasn’t sufficiently intrigued by the detectives or the location to follow the series. I know the author is well thought of by the FB UK Crime Book Club group and I can see why, but I think I need more than mere competence…
Whispers in the Woods by KC Carmine***. Disappointing, especially as it had been recommended after I’d written my Christmas tree-shifter story (see free stuff on my website). The tree shifting was used as a kind of extension of being ‘different’ and the story was an mm romance that looked at issues to do with coming out, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. especially in relation to Eastern Europe where the story was set. The plot wasn’t exciting and the romance was forgettable at best. Nicely written and full of social commentary but that’s about all I can say for it.
Luckless by Cari Z*** If you like lots of battles with monsters, go for it. I worked out the plot long before the ‘hero’ did, and was faintly bored. Especially because I skim explicit fight scenes as well as explicit sex scenes. It didn’t help that I had been reading the TJ Nichols series with much better developed mythological creatures. This author is not really completely new to me as I have come across them as a co-author with other writers. However, I decided to give their individual work a try but won’t bother again. Not bad – just not for me.
Jack: C S Lewis and his times by George Sayer*** It was interesting to read about the background to the Narnia books, and to get a picture of Oxford between the wars, but I couldn’t help wishing the biographer hadn’t been so excited about and invested in Jack’s conversion to Christianity. The final chapters that dealt with his marriage to Joy, an American, painted an almost unrecognisable picture from that in the film Shadowlands and I have to assume Sayer, as a friend of Lewis, gives a more accurate description.
Abandoned: (remember this is a personal choice – if a book is dire, I tend to finish it and say so!)
The Young Man’s Guide To Love And Loyalty by Clara Merrick It might be quite good but after a couple of pages trying to get my head round a steampunk world with a totally different history and a naval battle of epic proportions on behalf of unknown royalty, I gave up. Anyone who likes that kind of story – and I’m sure there are plenty of you out there – might love it. Please note that I abandoned the ‘classic’ Master and Commander series because of the naval battles, too, so it really isn’t a criticism of the writing.
The Harvest: Taken by M A Church Dale is kidnapped by an alien who wants him as his mate. The story line was predictable and not particularly well written or edited. I was quickly bored and gave up. I appreciate that it might not be derivative and that others I have read might well have been written later, but it’s not really a plot that appeals to me in the first place. I should have read the blurb with more care.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
*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.
*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)
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.