Fanfiction over the holiday

I’ve used a Photoshopped version of a promotional picture of the main ‘team’ from Stargate Atlantis for my header, because that’s the fandom where I’ve been most active over the last month.

To anyone who isn’t sure about fanfiction, I have written more about it elsewhere but let me just assure you that it isn’t by any means all very amateur or pornographic. There is a lot of extremely good writing, some of it by published authors who enjoy playing in other writers’ ‘sandpits’ and some of the best stories are ‘gen’ involving no romance or sex whatsoever. Where there is sex – and of course there is, in any genre – it is not usually as explicit as some I have come across in published and comparatively mainstream fiction. And of course there is dross, as there is, again, in any genre.

I know people in most of my favourite fandoms. Some I have only met online but some are ‘real life’ friends. Fandom has given me some of the most rewarding and lasting friendships in my life. Some of them are superb writers. Others are excellent and insightful critics. I’ve met them through fan conventions, through smaller fan ‘meets’ and through collaboration online.

I rarely look beyond AO3 for my fanfic reading. As an ex-volunteer I’m familiar with the platform, with its ratings, tags, etc. and know how to subscribe to series, find collections, and so on. As this year saw the archive achieve 7,000000 works in over 40,000 fandoms, there has to be something for everyone.

For everyone who already enjoys fanfiction, I’m sure you’ll share my quiet pride that our very own archive has reached such a fantastic place.

For anyone who enjoyed The Merchant of Venice, West Side Story or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, fanfiction is for you. Give it a try and if you can’t find work that appeals, ask some of us to point you in the right directions!

December is a wonderful month for fanfiction.

I wasn’t involved in the Yuletide fic exchange this year but I have great fondness for it. The first ever fanfic I read was a Yuletide offering: The Water Horse by Thamiris***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/1630331 The rest is history…

I did get involved in the SGA (Stargate Atlantis) Secret Santa and have been avidly perusing the other offerings. It was fun trying to guess the authors who weren’t revealed until Christmas Day. My own contribution for anyone who’s interested was Not elves exactly… which can be found at https://archiveofourown.org/works/28091619 My recipient’s request let me explore world and culture building to my heart’s content. The team find a strange planet…

There were some excellent stories this year, but as they all require some knowledge of canon I won’t go into details. If you’re an SGA fan, you can find the collection and indulge. https://archiveofourown.org/collections/sga_secret_santa_2020

Of course, as usual, I’ve also been following the Marylebone Monthly Illustrated by Mafief, okapi and Small_Hobbit ***** and am always thrilled when one of the small offerings in this delightfully tweaked Sherlock Holmes universe turns up in my inbox. I inevitably want to leave kudos and am stymied by the rule that only lets you do so once. I was also delighted to receive a gift fic from Small_Hobbit, one featuring my favourite of her characters, Mouselet. Mouselet’s Review of the Year***** is quite short, very funny, and gives a taster for anyone who has not seen this writer’s work before. https://archiveofourown.org/works/28240377

I also want to recommend A Cyber Christmas Carol by asparagusmama***** This is a robotic AU version of Dickens’ story and is very clever and imaginative. https://archiveofourown.org/works/28292130 Save it to read next December!

I will confess to still not having read all the Pros Big Bang stories that were published in October. All I can say is that Secret Santas in fanfiction and special stories/giveaways in original fiction simply stole my time. Maybe this month… though I still have at least two SGA stories to read..

Short stories read in December

Well, short stories and a book of poetry – it was quite short so I’ve included it here.

The really really good. I don’t often give five stars to short stories but there were some real treats this month.

Dr Bones and the Christmas Wish by Emma Jameson***** I love this mystery series set in a Cornish village at the beginning of WWII. Dr Benjamin Bones is a wonderful ‘hero’ and his relationships with his neighbours and patients plus a budding romance with Lady Juliet are delightful. The author is clearly not British and there are occasional anachronisms as a result, but the stories are fascinating and heart warming and the style is assured.

Goldilocks and the Bear by Clare London***** The story of Gil, Bruin and the Christmas Tree. How do you get a large Christmas tree through a narrow door? The story is light hearted fun with lovely references to the fairy tale and plenty of innuendos for grown ups – a kind of textual pantomime. It brightened my day.

The White Gods by Lawrence Osborne ***** This story in the Christmas Special of New Statesman absolutely hooked me. A wealthy American family tour Mongolia with guides, and inadvertently disturb a grave. To say any more would be to give spoilers and I really hope some of you might be able to find it somewhere.

Frost at Midnight by Elin Gregory***** A gorgeous look at Dafydd and Colin sharing a farm in the Welsh countryside. It has Dafydd attending midnight mass, and there is snow in the hills. The perfect story for Christmas.

The good. This is my default setting for short stories as a rule.

Gifts for the Season edited by RJ Scott **** This collection had some really gorgeous stories but some were set in series I hadn’t read and I quickly learnt to avoid those. Anthologies are always difficult to grade as they inevitably have at least some content that is not to this reader’s taste. The profits go to The Trevor Project and the book is worth buying for all the lovely standalones, and because this is a worthwhile charity.

Katy by Bryan Washington**** This story appeared in the Guardian on 20th December. The narrator moves back to Katy (a town) to help his friend open a bakery. It’s a very sweet mm story that shows how people can be wrong about events in the past, and that there’s always hope for the future. It pleased me because it appeared in mainstream media with no hint of apology or explanation for its inclusion.

The readable – well written but ultimately boring to me.

A Christmas Intervention by Mara Ismine *** This was a very readable story but for my tastes there was too much explicit sex, especially for a short piece. If you like ‘steamy’ mm romance, you’d enjoy it because it’s well written.

Boxing Day 1975 by Drew Payne *** This can be found in Stories written on lined paper. It’s quite short and the use of Rashomon style is clever but didn’t go far enough. Drew isn’t afraid to experiment: Rashomon style uses more than one narrator for the same event and the reader has to make up their own mind about reliability. The story suggests one of the characters is outed as gay, and looks at family reactions but I would have preferred some kind of follow-up using the same technique.

 Travelling Light edited by A Elliott-Cannon and Neil Adams *** This is a book of poems I unearthed from one of our boxes and couldn’t remember having read. I’m not surprised. It’s a collection of semi-humorous poems by a variety of authors and the standards are very varied too. The good ones can be found in other anthologies.

And the ones I didn’t like

Handspun by Charlie Descoteaux** This is very short and is mostly explicit sex so although the writing is technically good I didn’t enjoy it at all.

Difficult Times by Adrian Tchaikovsky** A sci fi tale about a pop group called Cosmic Strings. It appeared in the New Scientist Christmas special. I nearly abandoned it but husband wanted confirmation that it was rubbish… It wasn’t well written and the concept could have been much better handled. Then we saw that the writer has had multiple awards for his work. I have no idea why.

Incidentally, I didn’t abandon any novels or short stories this month. In fact, the only thing I abandoned was the Peak Cavern Concert I referred to in my post about December viewing.

The picture is an enlarged version of an icon by roxicons.

December reading

All but one of my December reads were novels. There was an inevitable focus on holiday themed stories, most of them absolutely delightful. I should perhaps point out that the books are reviewed in the order in which I read them and not in any other order!

The excellent – really well written novels with exactly the kind of holiday cheer we all want at this time of year, especially after what 2020 threw at us! Buy them and save them for next December!

Wonderland by J Scott Coatsworth***** The zombie apocalypse, a helpful ghost and a snowed up cabin provide the background for a heartwarming mm romance.

Eight Nights in December by Keira Andrews***** This mm romance is built around Hannukah rather than Christmas and it’s always good to see other traditions given the star treatment.

A Cop for Christmas by Jamie Fessenden***** The relationship starts badly when the cop gives a speeding ticket to someone returning to the small town for the holidays. A lovely family centred mm romance with Rufus the dog to make it even more charming.

Finally Home by K-Lee Klein***** Josiah only went ‘home’ for Christmas to sort out his dad’s estate, but his childhood friend Wyatt might make him change his mind about selling.

Tic-Tac-Mistletoe by NR Walker***** Ren finds an Australian tourist whose rented car has gone offroad in a snowstorm. Another ‘snowed up together’ mm romance but beautifully done.

December Roses by Fiona Glass***** I’d probably give this six stars if I was willing to break my own rules. Nat was badly injured in Northern Ireland (during the ‘troubles’) and after hospital treatment is sent to Frogmorton Hall for rehabilitation. The story of how he meets Richie, who may not be all he seems, in the gardens of the hall encompasses glorious descriptions of the garden past and present, interesting personal issues, and an exploration of PTSD plus a reaction to injury. The world and character building are superb. Whilst Nat’s story is at times difficult it ends on a gloriously hopeful note.

Christmas Lane and Gingerbread and Mistletoe by Amy Aislin***** These two stories, each following a separate mm romance, bring the little town of Lighthouse Bay to life with all its characters and its holiday celebrations.

The good.

Cupcakes and Christmas by RJ Scott**** This is the only holiday story that lost a star. Not because of the plot, characters or style, all of which are excellent. The problem lay in the proof reading which surprised me. RJ Scott’s novels are usually exemplary. But here it was with changes of tense and person that I could imagine from a first draft but not in the finished publication. I can only think it was published in haste. As I said, the normal great plot, character development, etc. It takes place during a baking contest and the competition itself is fascinating, quite apart from the growing romance between Brody and Justin. However, I couldn’t honestly give it five stars because of the typos. Worth reading all the same.

Engines of Privilege by Francis Green and David Kynaston**** When I subscribed to New Statesman the subsscription offer included a book on the UK economy. They never sent that but gave me this instead. I didn’t open it for ages but once I did I was really interested. It’s a long and detailed study of the effects of the British Public School system and attempts, historical and current, to alter the situation. It has various suggestions for a way forward. I was particularly interested because I went to a Public School. I didn’t recognise all the aspects they described but then my school was a church school with a very small number of pupils, in the north, and was at the time for girls only so some of the things that apply to e.g. Eton and Harrow weren’t really applicable. I did recognise some things and was fascinated to read about studies that showed just how these affected our society in general and education in particular. I can recommend the book to anyone who is interested in education in UK as it provides a detailed overview and offers some new perspectives. It lost a star by being perhaps too long and too detailed for an overview.

The readable. Don’t pay for them but if you find them in the library you might be interested.

The Sitar by Rebecca Idris*** I struggled with this book. It contains romance but is mainly concerned with teenagers from ethnic minorities growing up in the Midlands, and how some of them are led into extremist groups and terrorism. The story was interesting, as were the main characters, but the author was clearly not a native English speaker. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but she really should have found a better editor because at times the misuse of vocabulary, tense, etc. made the text hard to read.

Nemesis by Philip Roth*** This is one of those minor famous novels I had always intended to read. I was disappointed. It is set during the polio epidemic in the middle of last century and tells the story of a group of people from a small town caught up in the situation. The main focus is on a young teacher who survives but spends the rest of his life suffering the effects of survivor guilt. I found the story long-winded and repetitive and got impatient with the amount of introspection. The story was sad, and had, I think, lessons for our pandemic, but was not, in my opinion, worth all the hype attached to this author.

The Ice Monster by David Walliams*** This is a children’s book but I was disappointed. A great deal of the humour (often what is collectively described as ‘toilet humour’) is directed at a particular age group, probably roughly 9-13. The reading level of the text certainly suggests they are the target group. However, a lot of the humour seems forced, and as though the author has one eye on the parents/teachers who might be reading the book alongside the child, hoping to make them either snigger or express shock. The story itself would, I think, be better suited to a slightly younger age group but in that case the actual telling is too long. The ice monster of the title is a frozen mammoth, and there is an attempt to suggest some serious research but this sits oddly with the general tone of the book. Altogether a very mixed up offering but worth skimming if you think any children in your life might enjoy it.

I made the picture as a social media icon. It’s a heavily Photoshopped version of a birthday card that only gave the publisher and not the artist. The original was on the back of the card, not as a main picture so it was about icon size anyway. Enlarging it for use here has made it a bit fuzzy.

What I watched in December

I’ve decided to split my reviews so that I can manage a few more in depth reports on each section without getting overwhelmed. So this year there’ll be a number of monthly review posts instead of one main one, and an occasional longer critique. I’ll start by looking back at film and TV I watched in December 2020.

As usual in December, I watched quite a lot! Very little of it was typical holiday viewing. A lot of it was extremely good.

First the excellent:

Nordic Murders 1 and 2*****This, for Brits, should still be available to stream. It was shown on More4 and I understand there are to be more episodes. Each is film length and follows a different murder inquiry but the family dynamics between the main characters steal the show. It is set on Usedom, a German island in the Baltic, near the Polish border, and some of the action takes place in Poland, involving the Polish police. I was really hooked by the overarcing plot and an extra pleasure came from knowing the area.

Tamara Drewe ***** A group of writers at a retreat deep in the Dorset countryside are gradually drawn into the events in a village that end in death and chaos. The acting is brilliant and the twists and turns of the plot are never predictable. As you’ll gather from the five stars,, I loved it.

The Wrong Trousers***** A re-watch. Surely everybody has to love Wallace and Gromit? I find the ‘claymation’ much more immediately satisfying than most ‘funny’ cartoons. I could watch the whole series all day, admiring the technical way the models are manipulated (Gromit’s expressions are wonderful) and enjoying the understated Brit humour.

The Goes Wrong Show: The Nativity***** Probably still available on BBC iPlayer. I don’t always laugh at this series which I think tries too hard and therefore often fails, but The Nativity was wonderful and I never stopped giggling. I think it was so funny because I know all about school and church nativity plays. (One of my favourite Christmas films is Flint Street Nativity.)

Britain’s Most Historical Towns: Manchester (Alice Roberts)***** The historian explored the history of Manchester and of course we watched – we live in Greater Manchester after all. Alice Roberts is always worth listening to, and gives us a broad sweep of history while at the same time concentrating on a wealth of details that bring a place to life. Shown on Channel 4 and probably still available.

Freddie Mercury: a Christmas Story***** I’ve seen a number of biopics etc. about Freddie and Queen. This was a particularly good one.

Billy Elliot***** Another rewatch. I love this film. For anyone who doesn’t know it’s the story of a young boy in the north east of England who decides, almost accidentally, to learn ballet, much to the initial horror of his family. He eventually becomes a principle ballet dancer and the film follows his progress.

Knives Out ***** Daniel Craig stars in this quirky detective story set in America. Although I like Craig and his acting is good, the only flaw I would point to in this film is his accent. I suppose it’s meant to be Southern American but let’s face it, he’s Brit, and it doesn’t quite come off. Through various perspectives and a number of flashbacks which may or may not be recounted by unreliable narrators, Craig, as a private detective, gets to the bottom of a case the police are unable to solve. Worth watching.

I also thoroughly enjoyed a couple of concerts on YouTube – the Hallé Christmas Concert ****** and the Virtual Carol Concert – Online Carol Concert – LordsTaverners.org. ****** These were both delightful, but we also started watching a carol concert filmed in Peak Cavern in our local Peak District and gave up. It was filmed before the pandemic and seemed somehow unreal. Also, the music was excellent (a brass band from our area) but the soloists were too loud and not to our taste. I’m not sure why I wanted a more ‘distanced’ performance but I did. It was the only thing I abandoned in my December viewing.

The good.

The Shape of Water**** A deaf cleaner working in a research facility realises that an alien is being abused by the people investigating him. Gradually, with help from some of the scientists, she gains the alien’s trust, then his love. It’s an interesting idea and has an unlikely but romantic ending. The acting is excellent and the direction is tight, making sure the story is gripping.

Return of the Black Death: Secret History**** Another More4 production that looked at the history of the Black Death in the middle ages, the mid-seventeenth century ‘plague’ in London, and the implications for our current situation. Fascinating. I knew most of the historical information but it is always good to see links made and explored, and to set the present day in context.

Princess Alice: The Royals’ Greatest Secret**** This was on Channel 5 and was a biography of Alice, mother of the Duke of Edinburgh and therefore mother-in-law to the queen. She was a very interesting person in her own right and it was good to get more information about her as well as throwing light on Prince Philip’s childhood, young adulthood and marriage.

The World’s End**** This was a re-watch and in fact it might be the third time I’ve seen it. It’s a film by the team that brought us Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, etc. and it has moments of hilarity followed by moments of terror but I have always thought the ending was contrived and less than stellar. The acting is, of course, as you’d expect, superb.

The Clown **** This Christmas offering for children is based on the book and drawings, by Quentin Blake. As you’d expect, the drawings are excellent and the story is quite nice but somehow doesn’t reach the heights of The Snowman or The Gruffalo. A toy clown is thrown out in the trash and escapes. He then decides to rescue his fellow toys who are all waiting to be collected by the bin men.

The watchable if there’s nothing else on

The Valhalla Murders*** This was billed as the new Scandi-noir and was set in Iceland. It wasn’t well filmed, and there were too many incidents where the investigating team put themselves in harm’s way by e.g. entering dangerous premises alone at night. The investigators themselves clearly had severe family problems but these were never properly explained or resolved, just used to add to the atmosphere. The scenery was interesting, though somewhat black and white (Iceland in winter) and the acting was better than the script or the direction.

Happy Feet*** I love penguins but I’m not sure a full length animation film is quite to my taste. I almost fell asleep. The film naturally lacks colour, being about a black and white bird in a mostly white landscape, and there is a focus on the way penguins do in fact live, so the whole thing never really decided whether it was story about a lovable penguin, an animated attempt to ‘sell’ the idea of conservation, or a documentary in black and white. I was tired, but even so… I really felt I’d wasted a couple of hours.

Mystery Road

The photo of Aaron Pedersen as Jay Swan is from a promotional site with the addition of a ‘film’ frame.

Some time ago I watched a film, Goldstone, which was meant to be a stand-alone. I was confused by much of it. The story, an ordinary thriller, set in the Australian outback, was clear enough, but I didn’t seem to grasp the character of the lead detective, Jay Swan.

I then gathered that it was in fact a spin-off from the TV series, Mystery Road, which I hadn’t seen. That explained things. I liked the setting and direction so when Mystery Road Season 2 appeared on our screens I went to iPlayer to download it. (I never seem to be able to watch things exactly when they’re aired.) I was pleased and surprised to find that the whole of Season 1 was also available. I’ve been binge watching!

I absolutely loved it. The series is made by Australians using Indigenous Australian actors, and the plot lines revolve around the treatment of Indigenous communities. Incidentally, I have never understood why the term ‘Indigenous’ is used when clearly the people came from elsewhere in the first place. However, it has to be better than the previous ‘Aborigine’.

The main detective is an Indigenous Australian. In the first season he works with a white police officer whose family have been involved in cheating communities out of water rights. The murder of a white boy is investigated, leading to all kinds of secrets being discovered, and also to drug running which then leads into Season 2.

In Season 2, the drugs case is ongoing, set against the background of a university archaeological dig on community property. Jay works with a local Indigenous police officer and the various threads of community feeling and responsibility are deftly woven together, as are the problems of racism, both overt and subtly patronising.

Knowing that the show was made with the full involvement of the Indigenous people gave the themes a gravitas that I think they would not have got if a less diverse team had made the programmes.

I’m aware that some viewers found the premise of the drug dealing preposterous. Perhaps, but drugs are a very real problem in rural Australia as well as in the cities, and as they form the basis of a lot of crime stories they were a good ‘hook’ on which to hang the real story, which is not a detective ‘thriller’ at all but that of a changing society. The drug dealing also led to some very violent scenes but those, and the car chases, might well have been inserted to attract viewers (especially in Australia) who would not otherwise watch a show about Indigenous problems.

The filming was excellent. The direction and photography were extremely good and the acting was at times superb and always competent. It was lovely to see some affirmative action for Indigenous actors and I really hope some of the actors find work in the wider film industry as a result of their performance here. It doesn’t hurt that Aaron Pedersen, who plays Jay Swan, is very easy on the eye!

The locations were well chosen and made me feel nostalgic for the time I spent in Australia. I didn’t in fact go to that specific area but the ‘outback’ was lovingly depicted and so were the small towns.

The music was gorgeous. There was a mix of Indigenous Australian music and classical religious song. I have created a short playlist for myself on Spotify – if anyone wants to listen, it’s called Mystery Road Favourites By Lizzie.  

As well as Goldstone, there’s another film, simply called Mystery Road and I am intending to watch it as it’s available on Amazon Prime. I understand it either follows Season 2 or very closely precedes it.

The TV series are available for about a year on BBC iPlayer so I would recommend them to anyone with an interest in Australia, a concern about racism in any form and a liking for police dramas. I certainly won’t remember the details of the drug busting, but the communities and individuals will stay with me for a long time.

October reviews

A cartoon from The Spectator. Brit readers will understand.

TV and films

The excellent – see if you can find them anywhere!

Vera Season 7***** Great, as usual. I really look forward to this show and will be sad when I catch up with myself. I know I’ve seen the whole of Season 10 but am not sure about Season 9. I’m currently watching Season 8 but ITV has a habit of ditching the show for a week or two to allow for other programmes.

Mystery Road Seasons 1 and 2 ***** I adored this entire series and will be writing a more in depth critique later in the month.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ***** A really well directed and acted film about a woman who finds herself pitted against the police who have failed to find whoever raped and murdered her daughter.

Honour  ***** A fictionalised account of the investigation of an ‘honour’ killing In South London. I recall the actual case but had forgotten the details. Keeley Hawes plays the detective well.

The good.

Lawrence of Arabia: Britain’s Great Adventurer**** I have seen both the film and a previous documentary, and read about Lawrence’s life. This programme summed it all up and added more glimpses into the life and times of a man whose legacy feeds into the problems the Middle East faces today.

Roadkill Season 1 **** A British political drama with some excellent acting by Hugh Laurie. It isn’t as good as the original House of Cards, but it does make the viewer think hard about politicians.

Abandoned.

Adult Material. This drama centred round the porn industry sounded intriguing but managed to be boring.

Books

The highly recommended:

The Sugared Game by KJ Charles***** The second book about Will Darling and his occasional lover. A really good period romance and thriller.

The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire***** I think this was one of the best October Daye books yet, with a focus on the Selkie and the Merrow. It included a novella, Hope is Swift **** That was less gripping, probably because it was not told from October’s point of view so my sympathies were not altogether engaged.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini***** I cried more than once during this searing account of the experiences of women in modern Afghanistan. I will be looking at the novel in more depth later in the month.

Halloween Knight by K-lee Klein ***** A delightful Halloween themed story with all the angst and darkness associated with the night of Halloween but with a fairy tale ending. I read it on 31st and it was perfect!

The good

Physical Therapy by ZA Maxfield **** This is the second book in the St Nacho’s series. It’s a pleasant enough mm romance but it didn’t, for me, have the same impact as the first book. Good writing.

Where the Forest meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah**** This started out as a mystery with hints of sci fi, but although the story was satisfactorily resolved I found the ending disappointingly mundane after all the promise of the early chapters. A research student finds a young girl on the doorstep and needs to find out where she came from. Well written.

The merely readable

The Gift of Cockleberry Bay by Nicola May. *** Third in this chicklit series. I liked the first and then went and bought the other two. Unlikely characters, situations and resolutions led me to wish I hadn’t but lovers of the genre might find them entertaining.

Short stories

Chinatown by J Scott Coatsworth **** Clever sci fi in which 1984 meets Inception with the Chinese in charge. Well written.

Animal Control by Brumeier *****   A story in her After the Eclipse series, which is original work but archived with her fanfiction. After an eclipse, a town starts to have strange experiences. The characters and situations are incredibly well developed in very short pieces which are reminiscent (though not in any way related to) The Night Vale radio series. https://archiveofourown.org/series/839529  If you haven’t read the earlier stories in the series already I suggest you follow the link then go back to the beginning!

Abandoned

Shield series by Anna Butler. I couldn’t get past the space battles at the start. Military fiction is not my scene and I suspect the role of the military was going to figure large in the books.

The Angel’s Mark by SW Perry (and the sequel) I borrowed these from the Amazon Prime library. Present tense mediaeval whodunnits. Just no. Returned swiftly.

Enchantress by James Maxwell (Evermen Saga Bk 1) A very derivative plot with strange name choices. I gave up.

Fanfic

I’ve read a lot this month. I contributed to an October MonsterFest and read the other entries. You can find them all at: https://archiveofourown.org/collections/Shoobie_Monster_Fest.

For some reason WordPress refuses to link to the collection but if you type the link in your search bar it should work.

I can recommend:

Monster Fest 2020: Astro Edition by InterstellarBlue in which K-pop meets the world of mermen.

The recs I followed up from the comm holding the fest led me to:

Either Side of the Surface by lavvyan***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/14347482 wordcount 1616 which is Hawaii 5 O  but you don’t need to know the fandom

and I was reminded of the first fanfic I ever read (recced by my daughter)

The Water-Horse by Thamiris***** This is in the Arthurian legend fandom. https://archiveofourown.org/works/1630331

Other contributions and recs were too fandom specific to recommend here.

Then it was, of course, October, which always means The Professionals Big Bang. I have all the stories downloaded but have not so far had time to read many. Those of you who enjoyed Buen Camino, Bodie by Sharon Ray last year might want to read The Road to Finisterre which completes Bodie’s journey to the end of the pilgrim trail, but be warned, this is what the author calls a heartwarming death fic. My heart was not warmed but because of the content – the writing was excellent. https://archiveofourown.org/works/26336557

September Reviews

TV and films

The recommended if you can still find them anywhere.

Galaxy Quest***** (1999) I adore this film and was seriously happy to watch it yet again. A wonderful spoof of Star Trek but also a wonderful space adventure in its own right.

Manctopia**** BBC looking at the building boom in Manchester (where I live) and assessing the effects on various slices of the population.

Cyberbully**** Maisie Williams (think Arya in Game of Thrones) is alone on the screen for a riveting hour in a drama about cyber bullying.

Opioids Inc ****   Interesting look at the start of opioid addiction in US and the results, plus the influence of the big Pharmas.

Plague Fiction BBC4**** A look at literature written during and about plague, particularly the Black Death throughout the ages.

Des (and factual follow up) – with David Tennant****   The arrest, interrogation and trial of Desmond Nielson, who killed and dismembered at least fifteen young men. Gripping and gruesome. I quite like these docu-dramas that revisit crimes I was aware of at the time; somehow they put everything into context.

The Princess Spy **** Noor Inayat Khan was a young woman who was Indian royalty but died as a spy in occupied France, working on behalf of Britain, her adopted country. A blue plaque has recently been placed on her home in London.

The watchable but not highly recommended.

Secrets of Center Parcs*** How the holiday venues were founded and made popular.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 1*** I watched with intense concentration so that I could write a fanfic for an auction bidder who is thankfully pleased with the result. Plot and characters are interesting but I could do without all the space battles and special effects so might not get round to watching Season 2.

The Cult that Stole Children (Storyville) ***   The chilling story of a woman and her friends who got away with kidnap, child abuse, and a great deal of falsification of documents in Australia. They had friends in high places and although they were brought back from US to answer for their crimes, they were merely fined. The woman died recently in her nineties, in a care home for those suffering from dementia. I would have liked more detail and less drama.

Books

The wonderful

Galaxies and Oceans by NR Walker***** An mm romantic mystery set on Kangaroo Island off the south coast of Australia. Gorgeous.

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin***** Siobhan, Malcom and Rebus are catapulted into a cold case when a body is found in an abandoned car. The usual vivid detail about Edinburgh, the characters, and modern policing.

Romancing the Undercover Millionaire by Clare London***** An exciting mm thriller set in the wine trade.

Alike as two bees by Elin Gregory***** Stonemasons, stone carvers and the people who employ them in Ancient Greece. Lovely romantic mm story that brought the period and place to life. I was reminded of Tom Holt’s The Walled Garden but this had a more delicate touch.

Dark/Darker by Paul L Arvidson***** Bks 1 and 2 of Dark Trilogy. What I want to know is when book 3 is coming. It was supposed to be published earlier this year. Fascinating sci fi with memorable characters. To say anything further would give spoilers; a lot of the pleasure stems from the gradual unfolding of the plot and the world. Warning: it could have used better proof reading but in spite of that I give it five stars.

The excellent

In the Middle of Somewhere and Better than People by Roan Parrish**** Two sweet and well written rural mm romances, neither quite gripping enough to make me buy the sequels.

A Vineyard in Andalusia by Maria Dueñas****  Great historical detail about nineteenth century life in Mexico, Cuba and Spain and excellent writing but I didn’t like the characters.

The readable

The Unspoken by Ian K Smith*** Too many gangsters in Chicago. I nearly abandoned this thriller but wanted to see what happened. I believe there are sequels but I won’t be buying them. (I didn’t buy this; it was a free read from Amazon Prime.) Well done, just not to my taste.  

The Brandy Trade under the Ancien Régime by L.M.Cullen.*** Some interesting information about the growth of the international trade in spirits but too much dry financial and legal detail so I skimmed.

The Layered Mask by Sue Brown*** Regency mm with rather stereotypical characters and a somewhat contrived ending. Well written.

My Anti-Marriage by DJ Jamison*** Too much sex and a very slight story though it’s a pleasant plot and well written.

Short Stories

Rain by Nick Thiwerspoon*** A nice ficlet on Nick’s blog.

Abandoned

Nothing abandoned this month! Is this a first?

Fanfiction

Torchwood High by Pooky1234 **** Very clever and well done. Alexa has been promoting this on her author FB page and I can add my recommendation. A convoluted story about the staff (and a few kids) in a Welsh high school. However, I like Torchwood for the aliens and really missed them… It’s long: 290619 words so take a deep breath!  https://archiveofourown.org/works/22937830

Riders of the Purring Sage by Edonohana **** A delightful very short story (2906 words) about cat herding in the old wild west. No romance, just lots of cats and a possible ghost. Could be a good Hallowe’en read. http://archiveofourown.org/works/12934236

August reviews

TV and films

The one I love:

Vera season 6*****

The watchable:

Woodstock: Three Days that defined a generation**** Interesting. My generation but I think we were on our honeymoon at the time – at any rate, we missed even mentions on the news!

George V: The Tyrant King**** Fascinating look at the life of a rarely mentioned monarch.

The Teacup Poisoner **** Another programme about Graham Young the psychopathic serial killer, or just possibly a re-watch

Teacher with Tourette’s**** Interesting and I hope her career goes well

True Lies *** (again) Once the novelty and suspense have worn off, the film loses its sparkle. Try telling my husband that.

Novels

The highly recommended:

Master Wolf by Joanna Chambers ***** (Capital wolves bk 2) Werewolves in historical Edinburgh. Delicious.

Nightvine/Shadebloom by Felicia Davin***** The Gardener’s Handbook 2 and 3. Gorgeous trilogy which mixes fantasy, politics and lgbtq themes.

Spellbound/Starcrossed by Allie Therin***** Rory and Ace with magic in 1920s Manhattan – look out for Wonderstruck in 2021!

Romantic Renovations by Blake Allwood **** a TV reality show plus skulduggery. Very readable.

Moonstone by K-lee Klein**** Stone Magic bk 1 Tattoos and magic. Nice story and I might buy the sequel.

Echoes of Blood by Fiona Glass**** Liverpool vampires. A slightly dark story, outside my normal reading. Very well done.

The readable:

Don’t make a sound by TR Ragan *** Unmemorable thriller centred round a disfunctional US family and their partial memories.

Paper Girls by Alex Smith*** Humdrum UK police procedural.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths*** Another humdrum UK thriller. Merely having a detective of colour is not enough…

Meet me in Cocklebury Bay by Nicola May*** Nowhere near as good as the first because it lacks the novelty and suspense but I’ve bought the third so will read it.

As Big as the Sky by Amy Aislin*** nicely written but ultimately unmemorable mm romance.

Summer with the country village vet by Zara Stoneley*** Basically boring romance (chicklit?) with a lot of repetition/padding.

Work for it by Talia Hibbert*** Another sweet but unmemorable mm romance set in a small English town during the elderflower harvest.

And the dire:

Edinburgh Twilight by Carole Lawrence
* Poor writing and research. It began to be obvious that this was an American author with a sketchy understanding of Scottish culture.

Short Stories:

None this month

Abandoned books:

The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by LC Tyler – a boring whodunnit

A Light Amongst Shadows by Kelly York – it didn’t seem worth wading through present tense

Trust No-one by Debra Webb – a prologue that gives away part of the ending put me off

Stealing the Crown by TP Fielden – an odd concept with crime in Buckingham Palace.

Murder at Melrose Court by Karen Baugh Menuhin – too much forced humour

Fanfiction

The Hawk and the Wolf by Fledhyris
***** Loosely based on Supernatural and Ladyhawk, with echoes of various mediaeval books and shows. Lovely writing though I would say that as she’s my daughter. https://archiveofourown.org/works/25004080

Perpetual Motion by esteefee***** SGA/Sentinel fusion in an alternate universe. Probably accessible to anyone with the faintest idea of the characters and the concept. https://archiveofourown.org/works/23990572

April reviews

April

TV and films

The excellent.

Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance***** Stunning animation series – homage to Jim Henson. Also watched fabulous episode about the making of the series. Available on Netflix. You don’t need to have watched the original film to make sense of this – I’m going to watch it again later. This is a prequel.

Pangolins: the World’s Most Wanted Animal*****
(BBC2) I love them and I’m so sad they are heading for extinction.

Witness***** – Harrison Ford in romantic thriller based around life in Amish community.

Vera Season2***** ITV seem to have temporarily given up treating us to the entire series, maybe because they hope we’ll pay for BritBox. (Not going to happen.)

The good.

A Monster Calls****
Rather frightening for kids and rather preachy for adults. Good animation etc.

Various SGA episodes – no stars because watched for fic I’m writing for Fandom Trumps Hate so more like work than entertainment… But overall I’d give the series 4 stars because the main characters hooked me.

Front Row Late Series 7 Ep 1 Mary B intros the Atwood puppet show ****
(See short stories) Interesting use of household props.

Twin****
Norwegian drama with Kristofer Hlvju (GoT) playing both twins. Well acted in lovely scenery.

Holst and Vaughan Williams: Making Music English**** Interesting.

The annoying.

The Truth about Traveller Crime (Dispatches)*** Raised as many questions as it pretended to answer. I was annoyed because Ch 4 are usually more politically aware.

Books

The excellent

Sporting Chance by Alexa Milne***** media problems beset a new relationship between a rugby star and a teacher in Wales.

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire*****Vol 12 in the October Daye series. Perfect, as usual. No real spoilers but after the cliffhanger of the previous volume I was relieved to find the wedding is still going ahead.

Mysteries of the Human Brain. New Scientist Collection.*****
Some fascinating articles.

Trial by Impotence by Pierre Darmon*****Looks at ‘the legal procedures for the dissolution of marriage on grounds of impotence’, particularly in France, from the middle ages to the twentieth century. Fascinating, horrifying, hilarious and sad.

Mere Mortals by Erastes***** Sort of gothic horror thriller with mm twist – intriguing and extremely well written.

Narrow Dog To Carcassonnne by Terry Darlington.*****
What it says (with Monica, his wife and Jim, his dog). Must get sequel. Really funny and interesting.

The Making of the English Landscape by W.G. Hoskins***** fascinating and informative look at hedges, ditches, trees, etc. from pre-Roman times to just post-war Britain. Get the hardback if you can – nearly as cheap as the e-book and you’ll want to refer to the maps and study the b&w photos. Written just after WWII before motorways carved up the countryside.

Semper Fi by Keira Andrews.***** Jim and Cal – WWII then an Apple Farm in NY State. 1942-1945 interspersed with scenes from 1948 and an epilogue in 1957. Clever writing and structure.

The recommended

Nobody’s Groom by DJ Jamison**** Nice as part of the Marital Bliss series but not very memorable on its own account because the characters are less interesting once Colby has got his head round being possibly gay. Well written as usual.

The ones I didn’t enjoy much but you might.

Alice Teale is Missing by H A Linskey*** Poor editing (Penguin, so I feel entitled to complain) – very repetitive and also features a fictional town in my native county. It doesn’t really work and I kept being distracted by its unreality.

The Lost Ones by Ben Cheetham*** well written thriller/chiller (better editing than Penguin) but with an unbelievable plot and characters – another one with a strange fictional town sort of dumped in the wilds of Northumberland (my home county).

DS Billings Victorian Mysteries by Olivier Bosman*** (boxed set of three) – possibly realistic if depressing psychology but unlikely thriller plots.

New Year’s Resolutions by Crystel Greene*** an mm romance in Westminster… Weird view of British politics and especially Wales. If the queen is 100 how did Larry the Downing Street cat survive?? OK, it’s an AU but AUs need some supporting world building.

Thin Air by Lisa Gray*** (Jessica Shaw bk 1) Great concept – weird structure with flashbacks in victim pov. Didn’t like the style much though quite well written.

Short Stories

The highly recommended

Suffer a Sea Change by Seanan McGuire***** sequel and counterpoint to Night and Silence (see Books). One of the exceptions – I don’t often give a short story five stars.

The rest

Bear and Fred by Iris Argaman***
Children’s story about wartime teddy bear. Not as good as Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Maybe a younger target audience but not sure in that case that enough context is given.

Man Crush by Isobel Starling*** So short I was just getting into it when it was over.

Silken by Isobel Starling*** BDSM with too much explicit detail for me.

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe*** Read prior to watching Margaret Atwood’s puppetry interpretation. (See TV) Too short, and the preaching distanced the horror.

The White Man’s Liberation Front by Bernadine Evaristo*** Present tense put me off. Clever but very aware of its cleverness. (Published in the New Statesman Spring Special.)

Abandoned
Murder by the Minster by Helen Cox. Lost me at redwoods by the Ouse in York. (Cornus or Dogwood doesn’t work, either…)

The City of Brass by S.A.Chakraborty (Daevabad trilogy bk 1) Djinns and demons and ghouls….

Fanfic

No stories to recommend this time, but I would like to mention some poetry. Please note that originally these were in the Sherlock fandom but have wandered off into their own delightful AU.
Five Poems from the Pen of Inky Quill by okapi **** https://archiveofourown.org/works/6848800/chapters/56437762

What are you reading at the moment?

What are you reading at the moment?

This, with variations, is a common question on social media. I suppose it’s due to the extra time some people are finding they have to read, during lockdown, working at home with no commute, etc.

The trouble is, I never know quite what to say. I usually have at least three books ‘on the go’ and sometimes more.

Let’s start upstairs.

The bathroom (with toilet) is dedicated as a rule to the week’s print magazines – at least New Statesman and New Scientist, with an occasional Private Eye (not at the moment because we’re random buyers and there’s a lockdown) or National Geographic (passed on by a friend and similarly absent). If those run out I have a carefully selected book: it must be something I can dip into and out of in between magazines. Not fiction, then. Mostly, books of art, poetry, etc. or perhaps things like Culpepper’s Herbal, or Harry Potter: A History of Magic (British Museum), a Dictionary of English Place Names. I’m sure you get the picture. I just finished The Making of the English Landscape and have given it five stars.

The bedroom has something non fiction but that nevertheless needs longer and more concentrated reading times. I don’t often read lying in bed – I find it uncomfortable and my glasses don’t quite cope – but I’ll sit propped up or on the edge. Currently I’m reading a fairly scholarly book about myth and gender. You’ll get a brief review eventually.

Downstairs next.

In the kitchen I often have two books. One will be recipes I have already read but need to re-read, finding and noting the ones I might actually follow rather than just enjoying in the abstract. The other might be fiction or non-fiction, in paperback. Something I can pick up while I’m waiting for things to cook, or take out into the yard with a cup of coffee. It should be something that can stand being abandoned when the potatoes boil or when the phone rings and I have to rush in. At the moment I’m alternating between Jamie Oliver’s Veg and Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. Both fascinating (both Christmas presents 2019) and I mustn’t let the pans boil dry. That happened with my previous kitchen book, Narrow Dog to Carcassonne.

Then there’s the lounge book which might be the one you’re asking about… It will almost certainly be fiction and equally almost certainly on my e-reader (though last week I had a Seanan McGuire urban fantasy paperback). It will stay in the lounge unless I’m going out (not likely just now) in which case it’s easy to slip into my bag if I remember. If I remember the book I will probably remember my mobile phone, and vice versa. I tend to ring the changes in my e-books. I like fantasy, crime, sci fi, mm romance, general romance, and some historical novels. If I find something that combines two or more of these, I’m really happy. Today I’m reading You Let Me In – a chiller that I’ve borrowed from the Amazon Prime Library. It’s very well written but I haven’t got far yet. I also keep dipping into an e-book about baking, written by one of those GBBO stars. I don’t really like reference books on e-readers because I worry about finding things again. I know there are bookmarks but somehow I’m not good at those till it’s too late. I just finished Keira Andrews’ Semper Fi which was a lovely mm historical novel. And I abandoned City of Brass even though it came highly recommended. It was another Amazon Library book so I had no qualms about giving up.

So there you have my reading habits. I should also say that I keep crosswords, sudoku and logic puzzles in the kitchen, bathroom and car, just in case…

And yes, I read the ingredients on sauce bottles, cereal packets, etc. In case you wondered.