December Reviews 2022

Daughter’s dog unwraps his new dinosaur in our lounge.

TV and books for December. I’ve put them all into one post for New Year’s Eve.

TV

Castle Howard : Through the Seasons. ***** (All4) 4 episodes. A no brainer because I worked there every sixth form and uni holiday as a tour guide, and one of the Howard boys was in my mother’s class when she taught in a private school for a while. (Not sure if it was the current owner.) A nostalgia trip and it was interesting to see how the current owner is altering the way the estate works.

Jews Don’t Count (David Baddiel)*****(All4) Based on the book with the same title by the presenter. (I added it to my KU wishlist). Thoughtful discussion of why and how Jews in modern UK and US have an uphill struggle against antisemitism. I have now read the book and will review it too (see below). Sadly, it didn’t live up to the programme.

Death in Paradise Christmas Special **** Despite the fact that the plot was less complex than usual, I enjoyed the Christmas ghost story vibe of this long episode.

The History of Now (BBC iPlayer) Simon Schama *** The very long introductions to the three episodes confused me since they were all the same. I think I’ve watched all three, possibly in the wrong order. There were some interesting moments but I’m not sure I learnt or retained a great deal.

Planet Sex with Cara Delavigne (BBC iPlayer) *** I’ve watched about half of the series and keep meaning to return to the rest but the fact that I haven’t probably says a lot.

Prince Andrew: The Musical*** Half watched while multi-tasking. Quite good but not really memorable music, and as the Guardian review said, it almost sanitised some really nasty stuff.

Reading

I have read a lot of short stories, some from ‘advent calendars’ and others in magazines such as New Statesman (Alan Garner) and New Scientist. After a while, Christmas offerings seem to blur and I haven’t listed them all here. I enjoyed them, and offer thanks to all the authors who gave their work to readers, but you’d get bored with a rundown on ‘pleasant Christmas story’ repeated with some alternative ways of saying it, over and over again.

Books

The Best:

Death in Heels by Kitty Murphy***** Fab – murder, drag, mm and mf romance, found and real families and their drama, Dublin setting. This was an Amazon First Read (Prime subscribers get a free or discounted book every month) so was in among a number of other mainstream books. I’m so glad I chose it and I was pleased to see the issues it raised in a mainstream setting.  Will definitely look for the sequels.

bad data by georgina sturge***** Amazing detailed look at the data that underpin government (by all parties) by a statistician at the House of Commons Library. This was a Christmas present (my family know me…) and I devoured it straight away. 

Also excellent: If you’re only going to buy one, go for the charity anthology which has lots of stories which range from good to remarkable and is in a good cause!

Consider Pegasus (Si Clarke)**** A very enjoyable sequel to The Left Hand of Dog, and Judgement Dave. I had an ARC copy to read and review for J Scott Coatsworth’s Liminal Fiction FB group and left a much more detailed review there (14th December). In the footsteps of ‘greats’ like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, Si Clarke uses apparently light hearted sci fi to explore serious social issues. This one is centred  on the question of whether a unicorn or a pegasus should be allowed to exist. 

Kind Hearts at Christmas ed. Liam Livings**** It isn’t often an anthology gets four stars from me. Christmas romance (mm) stories collected by the editor and sold in aid of HIV and AIDs charities. Some of the authors were new to me and others were familiar. I think this is possibly the first anthology I’ve read where every story is at least readable, and some are brilliant. If I had to choose a favourite it would be Clare London’s Santa Number Five with its clever echoes of Hot Fuzz and its air of mystery until quite late in the story. But I was also totally intrigued by Jack Pyke’s paranormal world(s) in Holly and the Heathen and would like to know more.

The Best Gift by Eli Easton**** I thought/feared this was going to be another ‘just a romance’. However, there was enough excitement to add a star to a well written story set in a Christmas ‘wonderland’ with gifts and trees.

The Christmas Leap by Keira Andrews. **** Pleasing friends to lovers story with a few dramatic moments to raise it above the general over-sweetness of the season. Michael and Will have been best friends for years, until Michael ‘ghosts’ his friend. Then Will needs to rescue Michael and they both realise what they’ve been missing.

The Christmas Throwaway by RJ Scott**** A cop rescues a young man thrown out by his family for being gay. Nice story with extra interest in the form of cartoon style illustrations added for this special edition.

The Santa Problem by Barbara Elsborg**** Lovely Christmas story with magic and reindeer. I would actually have liked a little more about the magic but enjoyed it enormously anyway.

Christmas in January by Charlie Cochrane**** It was great to see Dan and Steve again after their first book, Don’t Kiss the Vicar. I enjoyed catching up with them, and with their problems. I hope the author will continue to let us know how things are going.

Some other books worth considering:

Life is Right Here by Sophia Soames*** Lost a star because despite  a HEA (or maybe HFN) ending, I was constantly distressed by the illness of one of the characters I’d loved in the first book so didn’t enjoy the read. I wished, almost to the end, that I hadn’t read it in the run up to Christmas because I was getting so upset. Yes, it warned for triggers, but I didn’t expect that to be such a huge part of the plot. Very well written and the two intertwined families are incredibly real. I suppose that’s why it upset me so much! Recommended but you have been warned!

The Emperor’s Aeronaut by Shelley Adina and RL Scott*** Fascinating world building – steampunk during the Napoleonic wars. I was less impressed by the characters and much preferred Adina’s series Magnificent Devices set in Victorian times (also steampunk). I’ve written a fuller review for Scott’s group.

A Badger’s Tale by Geoff Francis*** This was saved by the illustrations, gorgeous photographs by the late Eric Ashby. The story of Liam becoming a badger shifter, followed by the story of the badger clan, is interesting but I never managed to suspend disbelief. Then the whole thing just sort of petered out so I was left wanting more badgers, more about Liam as an adult, more photographs and more in general!

Don’t you want me by Liam Livings*** Technically well written mm office romance but for reasons I can’t work out, this author doesn’t make me care about the main characters. The same was true of their story in the Kind Hearts at Christmas anthology.

Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel*** Gained a star by being totally worthy. I loved the TV programme but found the book badly structured and hard to follow properly. Whilst Baddiel makes some very valid points about the way antisemitism is separated from other ‘isms’ and treated as less important, he seems to be almost rambling about things he has read or seen, which have (not surprisingly) offended him rather than formulating any kind of plan to deal with them either politically or in argument between friends etc. A large portion of the book concerned the current attempt to right past wrongs by using e.g. deaf actors to play deaf characters and actors of colour to play characters of colour but never any effort to cast actual Jews as Jewish characters. I came away confused as to his actual opinions on the issue as a whole. An interesting book but one that I suspect was only preaching to the converted and had little to offer in the way of putting things right.

The Cottage in the Highlands by Julie Shackman*** I enjoyed this slow burn mf romance set in Glasgow and surrounds (not exactly the Highlands but still…). The story was quite convoluted, involving a couple of investigations (Leonie is a journalist) but the book lost a star for two reasons. One was the rather clumsy punctuation of dialogue, and the other was the epilogue which was really the end of the main story rather than a ‘later’ addition, and was very rushed.

No fanfiction this month other than Small_Hobbit’s Christmas Hamlet which was as amusing as usual, but tbh only got read at all because the chapters kept landing in my inbox. https://archiveofourown.org/works/43358580

I have not managed to read all the free stories I’ve been offered this month. I must do better and maybe at least get to the end of the Christmas themed ones in January. As for my tbr pile, I leave it to your imagination!!

The Tape. Review of a lovely film.

The Tape.

Directed by Martha Tilston, this is a feel-good film about a romance set in Cornwall. Martha is also the lead actor, and the singer. There is an album of the same name featuring all the songs from the film. I only came across it all because my husband met Martha and some of her friends on a business trip to Cornwall and came home determined I should watch. I did, and I enjoyed the experience very much. Martha is, of course, a performer (she tours as a singer) but she is not primarily an actor and perhaps as a result the character in the story comes across as very real and fresh, not at all glamourised for the screen. The plot is quirky, with moments of extreme humour and others of pathos. There’s a happy ending, and there are morals to be learnt from what happens to Tally, Martha’s character. Tally starts as ‘a crazy cleaner in wellies’ living in a van and ends up in a much better or at least more comfortable place. Leo, the romance interest, is equally fascinating and also has a lot to learn and to gain. The Cornish coastal scenery is lovely, and to watch at this time of year transports you to summer and a gentle pace of life.

I would recommend this highly. You can rent or buy the film from YouTube. We bought the YouTube copy so that we can watch again and perhaps show other family members. It deserves wider distribution and I promised to blog about it. So here you are! My film of the month.

November reading: 2022

Desperately trying to read the menu in the dimly lit but gorgeous restaurant where we went for my husband’s birthday. Fortunately we all had our phones with flashlights!!

New and old authors all together this time. No fanfiction.

Familiar authors – a clutch of highly recommended books this month.

Superb.

The Crofton Chronicles by Rebecca Cohen***** I had already read The Actor and the Earl but borrowed the box set from KU to get the two sequels, Duty to the Crown, and Forever Hold his Peace. I became totally immersed in the Tudor world, finding faint echoes of Twelfth Night (theatre and cross dressing) and Hunt’s The Bisley Boy (cross dressing and secrecy), and absolutely loving Anthony and Sebastian all over again. The author’s research is impeccable, and I am really looking forward to The Love and the Anger. If you enjoy historical novels with a smattering of crime and a heavy dose of romance, you won’t be disappointed.

‘Merely’ excellent

Sleeping Dogs by AL Lester**** Nice, well written ff short story with a focus on local myths and legends.

Three’s Company by Kristian Parker**** Another trip to an English village. Perfectly recreated and I felt I was back in a similar place where I grew up (also in Yorkshire). The romance is lovely but never overwhelms the other events in the lives of the three main characters who have to deal with family problems and in Andrew’s case a vengeful ex. Very satisfying.

Upside Down by NR Walker**** Delightful romance with a lot of humour, some interesting minor characters, a couple of fighting fish and a cactus called Spike. This was a great introduction to the world of asexuals. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Hidden Blade by Kaje Harper**** I had never realised but it appears I really really like novels about rock stars and members of bands. Not just this and others in the current Rocktoberfest mm romance collection but others by various authors such as Jackie Keswick and NR Walker. There is something very satisfying about seeing ‘stars’ from different angles – the public persona and the private individual – and following the varying levels of technical support needed to bring music into our lives. This book was no exception and I loved it. I really felt for Cam/Blade and his inability to socialise or appear in public. A great story and although I don’t imagine there’s a sequel, somewhere in my head and heart there’s a fan of this imagined group hoping Hellsbane and Blade will go from strength to strength! I have the rest of the Rocktoberfest books on my KU list and will get to them soon.

Life is good and other lies by Sophia Soames**** An excellent novel. The slow character development is fascinating and the location is brought vividly to life. Two gay couples and their children holiday in Sweden. Everybody has problems, major or minor. I’m sure all readers of every gender will be able to relate to one or other of the characters. The holiday begins to create solutions, and there is a sequel, ten years later, due soon. That promises to be interesting, too. I found the progression rather slow at times but think that was because I was, for various reasons not related to the story anxious to finish the book. I still think some scenes could do with slightly tighter writing but overall this was a magical book.

Reasonable Doubt by Gregory Ashe**** A great addition to the series. The couple, for they are now a couple, have doubts and concerns about their relationship that are brilliantly expressed. The murder case is fascinating though I have to say I guessed one of the pillars of the solution quite early. Some exciting moments and some gruesome ones. Some sad ones, too. Altogether satisfying.

Agents of the Truth by Jackson Marsh**** Superb mystery for the Larkspur academy alumni. I love the way Marsh weaves real historical figures into the story. A slight quibble: this one assumed some familiarity with the previous Clearwater series and although things were well explained this led to rather too many recounts of past events, needed, both for the reader and the main characters, but slightly irritating. The story also relies heavily on the immediately previous book in the series. I was amused by a typo, not in the text but in the author’s notes, which had 1922 printed as 1822 which would have made the discovery of Tutankamen’s tomb happen before Howard Carter was born…

New

Not such a good selection this month!

Seeds of Love. *** A romance collection with numerous authors sold to benefit Ukrainians in need. As with all collections of this kind the contents are mixed. Some were lovely and others didn’t appeal to me at all. There were both mm and mf stories and I found equally enjoyable and less than enjoyable offerings in both genres. I’ve been dipping in and reading it over a few months and can’t recall the titles of the ones I loved so they weren’t all that special! I skimmed quite a few of the ones I didn’t love. Worth buying because of the charity angle, so if you want to give for Ukraine, get it, but remember not all the stories will speak to you!

Holy Island by LJ Ross**. Crime story set on Lindisfarne, which I know quite well. Some head hopping which was irritating, and some odd vocabulary choices (e.g. since when did Christmas lights give a scene ‘levity’??) The plot was not exactly believable. Very gruesome with loving attention to nasty details, a detective who didn’t appeal to me, and an ending in the epilogue that suggested the resolution was not as neat and tidy as it seemed, thus paving the way for the next in the series which I won’t be reading.

Grim Undertakings by Whit McClendon abandoned. For me, where magic is concerned, less is more. This was no doubt exciting, but both hero and heroine reminded me of the Marty Stus and Mary Sues of poorer fanfiction, with far too many unlikely talents, ready to save the world via a lot of gore. Not my magic. 

What I watched in November ’22

Birthday flowers received in October; they lasted well into November with some judicious culling.

Umbrella Academy. Season 1 ***** Hooked. Amazing adaptation of a comic by one of the My Chemical Romance band. I’ll be watching the other seasons, too.

Heartstopper Season 1***** Delightful story line. I liked this a lot better than Everyone’s Talking About Jamie even though the latter was based on fact and this was fiction. The Jamie film was slightly pretentious, with a lot of unnecessary glamour and ideas of being a musical despite the very pedestrian song offerings. Heartstopper had music, but simply chosen to reflect the events. I’m looking forward to Season 2.

The Tape***** A film set in Cornwall, made by and acted in by people my husband knows. I’m supposed to be writing a separate post about it but meanwhile, find it on YouTube and watch!

I started watching The Rings of Power. It’s very pretty eye candy. Pity about the plot and script. I may watch another episode if bored…

However, I seem to have a watch list that’s getting as unwieldy as my tbr list (again) so I think The Rings of Power will have to wait quite a while!

October 2022 – unfamiliar authors reviewed

October colour

Highly Recommended

The Rule of Three by Kristian Parker****Enjoyable story about a threesome in a country village. I didn’t quite believe the ‘villain’ (one protagonist’s sister) but I liked the portrayal of village life. I will certainly read the rest of the trilogy. There are no truly dramatic events but the book works well as comfort reading.

Stone Wings by Jenn Burke**** Shifters, including gargoyle shifters, turf wars and a curse that must be broken. An exciting first story in this mm paranormal romance series and I will definitely read the next which is due out in January.

Ghosted by Jess Whitecroft**** I chose this for a Halloween read and thoroughly enjoyed it. Desanges is a mixed race wannabe spiritual medium from New Orleans with a lot of tricks up his sleeve. Jason is a reluctant exorcist from Wisconsin with a difficult past, living a ‘prepper’ lifestyle in the countryside. They meet when called in to use their professional skills in a haunted house. There are genuinely scary moments and almost as many hilarious ones. The plot twists and turns and had me on the edge of my seat till the very end. Actually, I finished it on November 1st over breakfast but thought it was more appropriate to review it with the rest of October’s offerings. Try it next Halloween – or any time really!

Readable

Tricks with Cats and Dogs by Mere Rain*** Quite a nice story, suitably creepy for Halloween season, but it was very short and could well have been expanded with more character development. The concept was good but it almost read like a very long blurb. Further information would inevitably be spoilers but it does involve shifters and mm romance.

Abandoned.

The Beatrix Stubbs Boxset 1 by JJ Marsh.  After lengthy flashbacks the reader knew who committed the murders (and that they  were murders, not suicides), how, where, when and probably why. The international team set up as a task force to investigate was not very interesting and the lead detective (Beatrice Stubbs) was, after a few chapters, unappealing to me.

Where the Silent Screams are Loudest by John Pye. Poorly written crime story by an ex-police officer. Sadly, I had actually bought this. Only £1.99 but still… somehow I don’t mind so much when a new author borrowed on KU doesn’t appeal. It read like a policeman’s court reporting, and there was quite a bit of less than stellar vocabulary usage. An ex detective ought to know how to use a dictionary or thesaurus. And no, they weren’t typos.

Nothing dire, though I was disappointed in the last book. I love well written crime stories by authors such as Ian Rankin and Val McDermid, even when they haven’t any romance or paranormal elements. But there’s a lot of very uninspiring work in the genre, often highly praised by people in the relevant social media groups. And of course I have to at least give it a try!

October reading 2022: familiar authors

The autumn colours have been late this year though I believe they got their act together further south.

Obviously there are no dire books in this selection. Familiar authors are trusted authors! There were no abandoned ones, either, as I am being a little more careful about reading the blurb than hitherto, and avoid themes that don’t appeal to me. Some of these books appealed more than others but that’s just my taste. They’re all worth buying or borrowing.

Excellent

Keepers of the Past by Jackson Marsh***** Excellent sequel to the first of the Larkspur Mysteries. Intriguing detail about Cornish myths and stone circles etc. albeit somewhat fictionalised for plot purposes. Fascinating look at sign language for the deaf. Dalston and Joe are safe (for now) and their romance is still slightly rocky but delightful all the same. One of those books you can’t wait to finish but at the same time wish would last forever.

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin***** The usual brilliant writing and satisfyingly complex plot with Edinburgh as an extra character. I love the Rebus series. However, I suspect my reading has got slightly out of order…

Guilt by Association by Gregory Ashe*****Another complex and satisfying mystery (book 4) with a HFN ending for the detective pair. Gorgeous writing. I was beginning to wonder how long Ashe could keep up the UST then realised I had no room to talk as my Skilled Investigator series keeps it up for six volumes and he only takes four…

Highly recommended

Subtle Bodies by Jordan Castillo Price**** I love the whole psycops series. Victor, with his ability to see and talk to ghosts is a superb ‘hero’. Victor and Jacob have now been together through 13 novels and numerous short stories, yet their relationship continues to grow and develop. The cases they need to solve are intriguing and this was no exception. I always pre-order these books now, and will continue to do so.

Gabriel’s Storm by Sue Brown**** Exciting tale of storms, rescues and amnesia on the south coast. I also read Hairy Harry’s car seat by Sue Brown*** Pleasant and well written story about Harry’s owner grieving for his dog and gradually finding out more about his own sexuality.

Getting Married at Crofton Hall by Rebecca Cohen**** I enjoyed this volume in the series about modern Crofton Hall even though it lacked the drama of most of the stories. I don’t recall planning a wedding being so fraught but that perhaps just shows my age. I had read the book where Ben and Ashley first get together so was not confused by the main relationships but must admit I have been reading these books out of order, and also getting ‘spoilers’ from blurbs… I must make a real effort to read in sequence.

Point of No Return by NR Walker**** Exciting cop drama with a satisfying romance. I shall be getting the sequel. I also read Imago Series Collection by NR Walker.*** I liked Lawson and Jack, and I was fascinated to learn more about Australian wildlife in general and butterflies in particular. However, the collection, which comprised three short novels and a short story, seemed to alternate between almost sugary romance and too much sex which furthered neither plot nor character development. Maybe I shouldn’t have read the set straight through. Ms Walker is a good writer but this is not one of my favourites in her works. The author’s notes sent me in search of a trilogy by Julie Bozza (another trusted author) which I have bought and will review in due course.

Lucky by Garrett Leigh**** I loved the way the relationship was held back by the secrets the protagonists kept. A beautifully written modern romance set in London.

Spell Cat by Tara Lain**** I shall definitely be reading more of the Aloysius Tales. Loved the characters (most of them witches) and the situations, and particularly loved the cat.

Readable

A Reason to Stay by RJ Scott*** I found the thoughts and emotions of the two protagonists in this rather repetitive. Although the thriller element was exciting I felt the story would have been better as a novella than as a full length novel. I like this author’s style but have favourites among her work and this wasn’t one of them.

The Altered 2 by Annabelle Jacobs*** I like the concept of the series (military experiments result in ‘altered’ teens who have shifter abilities) but there is quite a lot of head hopping which at times makes it hard to follow. Like the first volume, this was a nice story but doesn’t lead me to rush off to find the next.

Ruby Fire by Adam J Ridley*** Well written story in the series about the cursed brothers. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two. I found the constant switching between worlds/realities somewhat distancing; I have to admit I prefer paranormal fantasy to take place firmly within one world, ours or an imagined one. I also thought it was too convenient that the main protagonists fell neatly in love with virtually no UST and very little to explain their mutual attraction. The ending was satisfactory though there were hints that there’s another story to come. I shall read it, but for the community at large and the concept rather than the romance.

Fanfic

When Shall We Three Meet Again by Small_Hobbit. **** I laughed out loud at this modern take on the three witches. Suitably light hearted reading (and only 326 words) for Halloween. https://archiveofourown.org/works/41905317 Also Tigger Holmes and the case of the Midnight slipper **** by the same author which is part of the Tigger Holmes series, a light hearted fusion of Winnie the Pooh and Sherlock Holmes. Only 714 words. Give it a try!! https://archiveofourown.org/works/42573489

Viewing in October 2022

Hoping against hope that crumbs will fall from a birthday feast.

Karen Pirie**** (ITV Hub or Amazon Prime) I knew I would probably like this thriller set in Scotland with a female lead detective. It’s based on a series by Val McDermid whose writing I love, and whose screen adaptations are usually good. I’m not sure whether she’s involved in them.

Red Light**** (All4 – Walter Presents) Belgian crime drama with three female leads. A detective, an opera singer and a prostitute all have dysfunctional families and their lives are increasingly intertwined. Well made, well acted, and an intriguing plot. Set in Antwerp.

Politics live***** (Various channels.) The rest of the month was basically the ongoing soap opera of the Tory party trying to sell itself in various types of packaging to a disbelieving public. Naturally, it was still bought by its tiny core membership. Things began to settle with the advent of Rishi, but only because he’s such a relief after Boris and Liz. I watch a lot of political programmes. I’m really sad that BBC have axed Dateline London, but ITV still offer Peston and of course there’s always the news… My favourite is Channel 4 at 7.00pm. I always tune in to PMQs and quite often I have BBC Parliament on as background TV, and then get hooked by interesting debates. Actually, I’m more frequently hooked by the proceedings of various select committees.

Familiar authors read in September 2022

The same beck after a violent rainstorm.

Recommended

The Alpha’s Warlock by Eliot Grayson**** I hesitated over the four stars. I like the author’s style and enjoyed the action packed story with diverse paranormals. I didn’t even, for once, skim the explicit sex, because it was so entangled with the magic. And I liked Nate and Ian. Then I found out it was the first of at least 8 in an interconnected series and for some reason my heart sank. I will eventually read at least some of the rest but actually, the blurbs were probably sufficient to keep me informed and I won’t be in a hurry to continue. I think I preferred Deven and the Dragon which was a one-off.

Paternity Case (Hazard and Somerset 3) by Gregory Ashe**** Some great descriptive writing – I’m in awe! These mysteries are well crafted and intriguing; the reader and the detectives have to work hard to solve them. The ongoing unresolved sexual tension between Hazard and Somerset adds another layer of interest and makes it essential to find the next book in the series.

The Soldier and the Bodyguard by RJ Scott**** Exciting story with thriller elements, set in the Ellery Mountain series with a cross over with the Sanctuary series. I like the way the author researches medical and psychological problems then uses them in her fiction and I was soon concerned for JC and Adrian. The ‘baddies’ of this particular story were almost unbelievably wicked and cruel and gave us some nail-biting moments

Dating Mr Right by Sue Brown**** Trilogy of mm romances all set round the same bar in NY. I love the way this author creates whole communities and gives us glimpses of everyone’s life. I also read her Snow Twink **** I’m not usually into ‘Daddy’ stories but I trust the author and have a novella of my own based on Snow White so was intrigued to see what she would do with it. Well written and interesting. Probably worth reading if you like twists on fairy tales, and definitely if you like ‘Daddy’ themes.

Ghost of Deceit by Alice Winters**** Third in the Medium Trouble series. As usual, a fascinating mystery for Hiro and Max to solve, and some amusing banter, especially between Hiro and the ghosts, but sometimes, too much banter!

Code Red by NR Walker**** Exciting story about a boy band and their lead singer. Romance eventually helps him deal with chronic anxiety but only after some nail-biting moments. Very well written (as usual) and I was both surprised and relieved by the HEA ending. The portrayal of the back stage life of the band and their support teams is brilliantly researched and presented.

Tending his heart by Vin George**** Second in the series. Matt and Zeke are living their HEA but have to contend with the pandemic, Matt’s son, and Zeke’s brother and father, all of which create various types of chaos for the pair.

Readable

Witch Dust by Marilyn Messik*** Disappointing. I like the writer’s style but unlike Stella, the heroine of the Strange series who fights crime using her paranormal powers, Sandra, in this new venture, just grapples with family issues and inter-family rivalry. Nowhere near as intriguing or exciting despite the inherited powers and the shock value of some of the situations.

Where there’s a witch there’s a way by E Broom*** Another nice story in the Cadenbury Tales series but the MCs, all in their 20s and 30s, don’t come across as very grown up, and the proof reading continues to be poor.

Femme by Marshall Thornton*** A pleasant romance but I’m surprised it got such general accolades. I suppose it did a lot to explain different ways of being gay. The plot was fine but I kept expecting something to happen. Since this was basically a rom-com, with character studies, nothing much did.

Give and take by Clare London*** Very short story in Clare’s newsletter. Nicely written but too short to gain extra stars.

The Case of the Sexy Shakespearean by Tara Lain*** A nice story, well written, but full of unlikely events and outcomes. A sort of thriller, but not quite thrilling enough. A sort of romance, but not quite romantic enough. And the Shakespeare controversy underlying the plot was never adequately discussed.

New authors found in September 2022

Lake District beck from our writers’ retreat

Recommended

The Southern Boys Trilogy by KC Wells**** Another series with a huge cast of interesting characters and a community that seems familiar after a few chapters of the first volume. I enjoyed all the books in the trilogy though I think the first will remain my favourite. Yet again, an author to trust!

Readable

The Cat Returns to Adderley by Sam Burns*** Nicely written retelling of Puss in Boots. The main appeal for me was in the fairy tale element. and there was some interesting magic.

Death at Rainbow Cottage by Jo Allen*** Well written crime story set around Penrith and some of the local gay community with a cast of diverse detectives. Fairly gripping, with a serial killer element, but I wasn’t altogether convinced by the ending.

Secrets in Blood by Jack Cartwright*** Competent police procedural but I never got very interested in the detectives, the suspects or the victims. I was totally unconvinced by the ending, and I found it odd that the lead detective hadn’t been at least temporarily removed from her post – her bosses were clearly unobservant about her mental health to the point of negligence.

Readable fanfic

What we don’t say by museaway ***  http://archiveofourown.org/works/978486  Star Trek. Jim and Spock get married.

Poor

A Husband for Hartwell by JA Rock and Lisa Henry** Once you can accept that same sex marriage was legalised in the eighteenth century the story can unfold. But it was rushed and confusing, possibly due to poor collaborative writing and I didn’t really believe in any of the emotions. I won’t look for these authors again.

Murder on the Old Bog Road by David Pearson** Boring police procedural that reads like a policeman’s notebook. Set in Eire so it’s guardai, not police, but the basics are the same.

The Bone Witch by Ivy Asher** I was going to give this three stars – it seemed to be a perfectly readable m/f romantic paranormal thriller though some of the magic was rather confusing. Then it ended on a cliff-hanger, presumably to make me buy the next book in the series. That isn’t going to happen. I resent cliff-hangers at the end of books – even in a series I want things to draw to a satisfactory conclusion ‘for now’ unless it’s billed as a trilogy.

Abandoned

Spoken Bones by NC Lewis.  Crime story set on Cumbrian coast. So many thoroughly unpleasant people in the first few chapters that I gave up.

September viewing 2022

Coniston Water from the grounds of the Writers’ Retreat.

A strange month. I had Covid, which left me with a lot of viewing time at one point, and then I went to a Retreat which gave me two films to review. Add the fact that there was a great deal of political upheaval and remember I watch politics avidly but don’t review it. (I should perhaps say I have a preference for Channel 4 News and just hope the coming sell-off doesn’t wreck it.) There was also, of course, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. I didn’t see any of the coverage as I was driving to the Lake District. The drive was accompanied by very sombre radio music with no ads.

In non-political viewing:

Shetland**** I enjoyed Douglas Henshall’s last season as Jimmy Perez and found the ending satisfying but can’t imagine where the directors intend to go next. As is increasingly usual in cop shows, there was a little too much of officers investigating without backup – ‘sighs’ –  but other than that the story was nicely complex and interesting.

Gosford Park*** This was a rewatch chosen at the writers’ retreat I attended. It was slightly better on the big screen at our rental cottage than it was on my laptop where I first saw it. But it was never going to be a favourite for me, though it’s well scripted and acted.

Ridley ep 2  I haven’t given this any stars. We didn’t exactly abandon it but were interrupted by itv’s poor streaming, and by the time we got the programme back we couldn’t remember what it was about…

Better Call Saul. No stars for this, either. Husband was binge watching so I caught most of it and was not thoroughly interested.

Couples’ Retreat. Abandoned. This was another writers’ retreat choice. It’s an American romcom and those are never something I enjoy so I went to bed early.