Novels read in June

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

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

Highly recommended:

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

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

Cinder by Marie Sexton*****

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

Job Hunt by Jackie Keswick*****

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

Recommended:

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

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

The bucket list by RJ Scott****

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

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

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

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

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

Marked by death by Kaje Harper****

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

Accused by Leona Windwalker****

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

Chance to be King by Sue Brown****

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

Readable:

Lost and found by Rick R Reed***

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

Wild Retaliation by Ethan Stone***

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

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

Abandoned:

Hunger makes the wolf by Alex Wells.

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

A Magical Team by Edward Kendrick.

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

The Intersect by Brad Graber.

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

Some TV I watched in June

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

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

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

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

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

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

May: a marvellous month for fanfiction

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

Three fantastic long reads.

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

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

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

An interesting story from Brumeier.

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

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

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

Short stories read in May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I read in May

Our neighbour’s lilac from our landing window. Glorious while it lasts but it’s fragile stuff and doesn’t last long!

The excellent:

The Marriage of Likeness: same sex unions in pre-modern Europe by John Boswell***** I’d been wanting to read this for ages and finally got a cheap ‘used’ copy. It’s fascinating. However, it’s very academic and took me a long time. Also, as I have never learnt Greek I had to take the footnotes and the appendix on trust. The book sheds a lot of light on early Western European attitudes to same sex unions, and to the Church’s way of dealing with them too. It should probably be required reading in the ‘bible belt’.

Deefur Dog by RJ Scott***** A lovely mm romance. A harassed single dad needs a nanny for his daughter but also one that can cope with the Great Dane cross (the dog of the title).

Comfort Zone by Alexa Milne***** A sort of sequel to A Sporting Chance. We find some of the same characters. A lovely story and beautifully written as usual.

And the very good:

Darkness Falls by Jamie Lynn Miller**** An mm romance with the angst of blindness for one of the partners.

Dream by Garrett Leigh**** An mm romance between an ex-dancer and a CAB manager. The plot explores the problems brought about by ME

Mr Warren’s Profession by Sebastian Nothwell**** This would have been a five star read except for the author’s grasp of UK geography. It was a really good story about a mill owner and a clerk in late Victorian times, with a gripping plot and an angst ridden romance. However, even in the twenty first century, it simply isn’t possible to travel rapidly between Manchester, London and Wiltshire. I think American writers and others from outside UK look at our maps and think ‘oh, that’s not far…’ There were other non-Brit flaws, too, but they didn’t stop me devouring the book.

And also the abandoned:

The Elvish Deal by Paul Lockman. An ancient Middle Earth elf in NewYork in 2019 saves a suicidal veteran, Alicia. Not for me.

A few things watched in May

Close-up of the ornamental quince outside our front door. Over now, but glorious in May.

The Killing: Seasons 1 and 2*****We missed this first time it aired (maybe we were in Portugal) so thought we’d try it and ended up binge watching just in case they took it down from iPlayer. Great drama with convoluted plots and good acting and direction. The ending, plus the fact that it was made in 2012 (for the native Danish market) suggest there will be no more but at least it helped fuel Scandi-noir.

Second Wave: Did the government get it wrong? Dispatches.**** (UK: Channel 4)

Excellent drawing together of all the government mishaps and errors starting at the beginning of 2020. Of course it’s easy to criticise with hindsight, but this current crop of politicians doesn’t seem to learn from its mistakes. As usual with Dispatches, I wanted slightly more information.

Schitt’s Creek. Abandoned. (During ep 2)

I’d been told so much about this and had recommendations from all and sundry. It just wasn’t for me. It’s not that I dislike comedy/drama or the basic concept. I just can’t cope with what for me is over-acted American humour. Disappointed. I can sort of see why a lot of people love it, but I’m not among them..

Short stories read in April

Periwinkle blue or blue periwinkle – a sure sign of spring!

Quite a good ‘crop’ of short stories in April – perhaps because I stuck to authors I know and like!

Here for you by Jackie Keswick**** A lovely short story for Rock and Art., but probably not accessible to anyone who hasn’t read the first novel in the series.

Good Breeding and Hairy, Horny and Over Here, both by JL Merrow**** Stories with the subtle humour I’ve come to expect of this author. And a jackalope! I can assure everyone I have seen a horned hare, stuffed, mounted and displayed in a German restaurant…

A Sparks Gift and Just Like in the Movies, both by Clare London **** The first was an ‘extra’ for readers of Sparks Fly so it wouldn’t make sense to anyone who hadn’t read that. The other story is a stand-alone and is lovely.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It by Louisa Masters*** A competent but not very memorable.romance set in Melbourne.

Books I read in April (and some I abandoned)

I have no idea why these pretty spring flowers are called dead nettles. Because they don’t sting? Anyway, they’re currently all over the garden and the bees seem to like them.

The ones I read:

Excellent fiction:

Once upon a river by Diane Setterfield***** A haunting story of disappearing children in a river community in Victorian middle England. Gripping, satisfying and beautifully written.

Restored (and the prequel short Seasons Pass)***** The Bequest all by Joanna Chambers***** A delightful end to the story of David and Murdo, and a chance to find out about a couple of people who were mere minor vharacters in the first Enlightenment series. I can thoroughly recommend the series but if you haven’t read it, these later stories might be hard to follow.

Requiem Moon by CT Rwizi***** I just hope there’s another in the series… As good as the first (Scarlet Odyssey). High fantasy set in a world that uses African history and mythology as a starting point. This South African writer is brilliant.

Back in Black by Rhys Ford***** Another case of being hard to follow if you haven’t read the earlier books. This is purportedly a new series (McGinnis Investigations 1) but the various family members need their back stories. I love all of them and the mix of different cultures and attitudes in the books is superb.

The Well by Marie Sexton***** Ghosts, murder and mm romance. Dinner was late because I couldn’t stop reading.

Excellent non-fiction:

Tribes by David Lammy***** Excellent account of growing up with a foot in the ethnic minority south London community and another in the English public school. Really interesting and well written and gives a lot of thought provoking suggestions for political change.

Jew(ish) by Matt Greene***** This was a fascinating read in the light of Tribes! Matt is a non-observant Jew growing up in London, and he makes some hard hitting observations about how Jews are treated in UK as well as some enlightening commentary on anti-semitism in the Labour party.

Also The Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community by Stephen Bush who is one of my favourite New Statesman journalists. I learnt from this that he is a member of the Jewish community as well as being ‘black British’.

And The State of Hate 2021 – Hope Not Hate. A really good reference work to accompany the other books just mentioned about race in UK.

I’m not sure whether you can get those last two if you don’t subscribe to the relevant organisations but they’re well worth reading.

Good Fiction.

The Seattle Stories by Con Riley**** After Ben; Saving Sean; Aiden’s Luck. The constant use of the same theme (loss, comfort, etc.) began to irritate me but the series is interesting, dealing with the stories of a group of friends, and is well written.

Code Name: Liberty by Marshall Thornton**** Who is, and who is not a spy? And why? Lighthearted romance with thriller overtones.

Smailholm by C.L.Williams**** A story written as a kind of fairy tale set on the Scottish border during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots. The book is not only interesting and well written; it comes beautifully presented with a lovely cover and bookmarks though I don’t know if that was just because I took advantage of a special introductory offer. Wynn is an interesting heroine.

Tenacious by Blake Allwood.**** The main couple have to deal with a stalker from a previous relationship. Well written and quite gripping. The fact that each chapter repeats some of the events from different points of view makes the story feel ‘padded’ so that I thought of it as a novella rather than a novel but as it was free I didn’t feel cheated.

The artist and his billionaire by CJ Turner**** Lovely detail at the start, with the main character as both a florist and an artist. Then the story peters out and the ending, although satisfactory, feels rushed. Definitely a novella, not a novel.

Acceptable fiction:

Red Heir by Lisa Henry*** Amusing rescue of a prince – but which redhead is the royal heit? A great concept but a lot of the characters could have done with much more detailed exploration.

Secret Admirer by DJ Jamison*** Nicely written but very predictable mm college romance.

Adore by JD Ellis *** Cooper gets a summer job as nanny for Ellis’ grandaughter.- the story is full of tired tropes but is nicely written

The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado*** The author is ex FBI and this is a competent thriller. It just isn’t wildly exciting.

Little Boy Dead by Marshall Thornton*** Another competent PI story in the Boystown series but again, ultimately boring, because I didn’t really develop any concern about the main character. Maybe you have to read the series, though I’ve read one other which struck me the same way. The author’s Pinx Video series catapults the reader into the lives of the amateur detectives and is much more satisfying.

And poor fiction, which I don’t recommend:

The Planter’s Wife by Ann Bennett** Take an unlikely plot and add an irritating structure. The narrative switches from 1st person to 3rd and swings between different times. It felt a bit like being on a see saw… I also found it hard to sympathise with the heroine whose life choices were strange.

Murderous Profession by DJ Small** Another unlikely plot pairing a female detective with a male sex worker. The villain was predictable and two dimensional.

Also, the ones I abandoned:

The Leadminer’s Daughter by Margaret Manchester. I thought this story set in the Yorkshire Dales would be interesting with its combination of historical romance and mystery in a familiar location but I got bored quite quickly.

The Complete Kate Hamblyn Detective Mysteries by David Hodges. There are 7 books in the box set. I gave up the first after just a few chapters. So much happened to the heroine from all sides (villains, family, colleagues) before we even really knew her, that I suspended all belief in the plot, plus she was clearly going to survive for another seven tales…

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. A novel about transgender experience. It sounded interesting but was very American with almost impenetrable family, school and social norms. I’d like to read the same thing set in UK. Probably good for American readers.

Without Magic by Tye Tivillus. A boring account that began with a teen sold into slavery. I gathered he would later learn he could be a magician but it was taking its time…

The Wide Night Sky by Matt Dean. A novel about a dysfunctional family. I didn’t much like any of them so stopped caring.

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross. I suppose I should have expected this to be a bit HP derivative but it was also very boring. I didn’t really care what Bianca was up to.

What I watched in April

First of all, before the weather turned wintry again, I watched the pear blossom coming out fully. I’m hoping the dearth of insects due to the cold spell won’t affect our crop too much. I love our pears: raw, poached, pickled or baked. A pear version of tarte tatin is wonderful.

But the weather drove me indoors so I watched TV instead.

The excellent:

Dogs behaving very badly***** We watched in awe as Graham politely and efficiently trained the owners…

Line of Duty***** I loved it, despite a lot of critical reviews of this season. I love the filming, the direction, and the main actors. It was fascinating, in the same week as the finale, to watch a programme (the name escapes me) about the very real corruption investigation in the Met. I suspect this was the last season, but some of the issues have been left open for another.

The Looming Tower ***** A very well executed (and acted) account of the events leading up to 9/11 and the lack of trust and co-operation between the CIA and the FBI which probably contributed to the general chaos.

The Truth about Franco: Spain’s forgotten dictatorship **** We saw most of episodes 1 – 4 (in the wrong order). It was interesting and it was good to see Paul Preston, author of The Spanish Holocaust, taking us beyond the end of that book to what came after.

And the abandoned.

BlacKkKlansman – This was a sad and unintended abandonment. I saw half then needed to stop (I think it was bedtime) and it wasn’t on a catch-up service. I will definitely watch the second half if it comes round again. The basic plot centres round the true story of an ethnic minority journalist who manages to infiltrate the KKK online then has to persuade his (Jewish) friend and colleague to do the in-person stuff.

Luther – I sort of abandoned this but as husband binge watched it I inevitably saw a number of episodes. I like Idris Elba but I don’t like the amount of bloodshed involved in the very convoluted crimes, and nor do I like frequent episodes where people stand on the edge of roof tops, etc.

Ice Cold Murders – Italian noir. We watched one episode but won’t bother with more. It tried to be Montalbano without the scenic attraction and the crime was not particularly interesting.

Short stories read in March

The wallflowers have been in full bloom since early March. Rays of sunshine even on dull days!

I didn’t read any fanfiction worth mentioning last month though I downloaded a lot to read later. So this concludes my reviews for March.

As usual, I’m giving the best shorts four stars rather than five because I would have liked more lengthy explorations of the themes. Short stories have to hit a higher bar, for me, to get five stars.

The very good:

Bad, Dad and Dangerous by four authors. Rhys Ford (Wolf at first Sight), Jen Moffat (Kismet and Cadavers), TA Moore (Elfshot) and Bru Baker (Monster Hall Pass)**** I enjoyed all four stories and liked TA Moore and Rhys Ford best. All four have shifter fathers trying to have a life of their own despite needing to protect their children. Recommended for anyone who likes stories about shifters and appreciates some family life in their tales.

Blitz by Charlie Cochrane.**** Set in the London blitz. A delightful free short story from Charlie (on her website) embodying mm romance and world war two.

The readable:

Capital Crimes by various authors*** All the stories were about crimes that took place in capital cities. I liked Charlie Cochrane’s Game of Chance and The Drag Queen wore red by JL Merrow more than the rest but probably only because of already knowing the characters from the series. Karma by Alan McDermott was probably the best story in the collection but I couldn’t quite see how it related to the collection title. The rest were not inspiring.

Zikora by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi*** Reflections and discussions around childbirth, circumcision, marriage… Adichi is a good writer but I didn’t find much to inspire me in this story. However, I’m probably not the target audience. Also, I think her writing style demands long and involved storylines, not short glimpses of life.

The Poison Within by Kasia Bacon *** This was too short to get a real sense of the Order Universe where it takes place. It left me wondering whether I would enjoy the main series, and whether I would ever hear anything more about the protagonists. Disappointing, particularly because I approached it as an introduction to the writer’s work.

Abandoned

Wings of Change ed Lyn Worthen. YA stories about dragons. I read a couple of these and thought they’d probably appeal to teenagers. But not to me.

Rainbow Briefs ed Kira Harp. YA – I didn’t bother after the editor’s intro which made it very clear that these stories were for teens.

There is probably nothing to criticise about these two anthologies. It’s just that life’s too short to read a lot of work in a genre you don’t really enjoy!