Novels and longer books in March

I photographed the pear tree, just about to produce blossom, on the same afternoon as the flowering currant in my previous post. I hope this proves that the sky was in fact blue. Since then we’ve had snowstorms so I hope the blossom survives.

I seem to have read a lot in March. I am trying hard to get through all the backlog on my Kindle. I might manage it in April, at which point I will need to upload all the books I bought from other sites.

The excellent:

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison*****(+) I adored this. A young prince inherits the throne when all the family are killed in what seems to be an accident. He is the child of an elf father (the emperor) and a goblin mother (an arranged political marriage). When he becomes emperor of an elvish empire the effects are immediate and far reaching. As well as coping with his unexpected position he has to find out why his father and brothers died, and find a wife who will be politically and personally acceptable. A fascinating story and a wonderful character study. I wanted more but I don’t think there’s a sequel. Highly recommended.

Romancing the Ugly Duckling by Clare London ***** A delightful romance between a stylist totally out of his depth on a Scottish island, and a man who has fled not just London but the mainland to nurse his hurt over his treatment by his family. The story has humour, excitement, and some excellent minor characters.

It takes two to tumble by Cat Sebastian***** Lovely romance set in nineteenth century lake district. Ben is a young vicar who falls in love with Phillip, a widowed naval captain with children. The children almost steal the show, and the locals are a fascinating bunch.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde***** This was a gorgeous novel with a very slow burn romance between Calvin and Lucy. The story deals with issues of race in the southern states, and much of the focus iis on Calvin’s son, Justin and his friendship with Pete, a boy from an abusive home who has been befriended by Lucy, a doctor. Friendship is a strong part of the theme, as are the miscegenation laws of the state. The romance has to be put on hold until the laws are overturned, and the ending is hopeful but I would have liked a little more about what the future held.

The very good:

Bay City Paranormal Investigations Box Set by Ally Blue**** This set of stories, based round the characters who run the BCPI team, is absorbing and well written. There are various love interests, both mf and mm, though perhaps too much explicit sex for my taste. I was slightly disappointed by the fact that the major threat the team was investigating was not in fact something paranormal but some kind of sci fi alien invasion. This was never fully explained. They contained the threat – for now – but I would have liked more closure and more acknowledgement of the source of the danger. The conflation of paranormal and alien was slightly off-putting.

A Midwife’s Tale. The life of Martha Ballard based on her diary 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (New England)**** This was an interesting read. It combines a detailed exploration of Martha’s diary with facts and figures about medicine, midwifery and the role of women in New England rural society during her lifetime. As well as being a portrait of a fascinating woman (and her family), it deals with issues such as feminism, social bonds, local justice and the gradual removal of medical matters from the hands of experienced members of the community to male ‘experts’. I was slightly annoyed by the tendency of the author to repeat what had just been said in the diary extracts. Presumably she did not trust her readers to concentrate on the content.

Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries (vol 1) by Ashley Gardner**** The boxed set contains three novels and two short stories. Captain Lacey is back in London after the Napoleonic wars, and is involved in a number of criminal investigations. His old sergeant is a Bow Street Runner and is able to offer some help. Early nineteenth century London is portrayed in great detail. Whilst I found the books interesting I did not altogether empathise with the main characters and will probably not buy volume 2. However, if you like historical crime stories, I can recommend the series.

Sea Kissed by Spencer Spears**** A young man is washed up on the shore with no idea of his identity or how he came to be half drowned. He is found by a recluse who is initially just glad not to be recognised. Their stories are gradually revealed, to them as well as the reader. The blurb suggested this was an mm retelling of The Little Mermaid, but it was a very long way from the original, particularly because the recluse did not really fit the role of the prince . However, it did have a fairy tale quality, albeit with a thoroughly modern happy ending.

Lessons in Solving the Wrong Problem by Charlie Cochrane**** A nice new problem for the Cambridge Fellows, though as usual, I prefer the longer novels to the novellas so this didn’t make five stars. I did enjoy revisiting Jonty’s family from the earlier books in the series. Recommended to all who are following Jonty and Orlando, but for anyone who isn’t, the story might not make a great deal of sense since it references other cases and events without going into detail.

Close to the Bone by Kendra Elliot**** (Widow’s Island 1) I prefer the longer Mercy Kilpatrick books by this author so, like Charlie Cochrane’s book, this doesn’t achieve five stars. Elliot is a good writer and her mysteries are well crafted. I liked the setting, with the islands just off the coastal resort being the venue for death as well as romance.

Cowboys don’t ride unicorns by Tara Lain**** A cowboy/bull rider meets an interior designer when the latter comes to the stud farm for a short holiday. The attraction of opposites is immediate and intriguing. There is plenty of angst, not least over the dangers of bull riding and the homophobia of the cowboy’s father.

The Custodian of Marvels (Fall of the Gaslight Empire 3) by Rod Duncan**** This final volume in the series was just as exciting as books 1 and 2 but I felt the end was rushed and then there was the kind of glossary as an epilogue. That gave a potted history of events, and distanced me from the actual ending. Altogether I enjoyed this steampunk adventure but I preferred the first two volumes.

The readable:

All Systems Red (Murderbot 1) by Matha Wells*** I read rave reviews of this but was disappointed. It was well written and the author seems to get into the ‘brain’ of the robot lead character. But I felt the plot was too slight and predictable (murder and mayhem on a planet during exploration) and I don’t feel inclined to follow the series. I think the use of a robot as narrator is an excellent idea, but I prefer my sci fi with more depth to the story and the world as well as the characters.

Stranger in the Room (Keye Street 2) by Amanda Kyle Williams *** This was a well written but improbable crime story centred round the cousin of the lead detective. Because of her previous addiction and other problems, the police have not believed the cousin’s reports of a stalker. I would (like the detective) have liked more clues. There are deaths and horrors that culminate in a threat to both cousin and detective.

City of Perfect Moments by Annabeth Chatwin*** This is a YA mm romance – teens meet (and bond) and then face hostility for being weird rather than being gay – it’s well written but not my kind of book. If any reader has a teen who has problems with their sexuality it might be a good choice.

Winter Solstice in St Nacho’s by ZA Maxfield*** Another well written mm romance in the St Nacho series. This one spent most of the time following recovery from addiction which I’m sure is a worthy issue but not one I particularly wanted to read about. I was looking for an escapist romance and got a rather heavy and angst-ridden one. I enjoy the overall concept of the series, that the town draws those who will benefit from being there.

Haunted by Irene Preston and Liv Rancourt *** This turned out to be a short prequel and I was quite disappointed. A sceptical TV ghost hunter meets an insurance guy who has left the police force because of his reaction to what could be ghosts. A great concept, but this was too short to explore the characters properly, and the investigation was also too brief. I probably won’t buy the sequels in case they’re equally brief and unsatisfying.

Spellbreaker by Charlie M Holmberg*** Like Paper Magic by the same author, this story had a really fascinating and detailed magic system but this was combined with flat characters and plot. Elsie could be a good heroine but was never properly developed. Bacchus was an interesting character and I assume the pair will combine their skills in future volumes. However, I won’t be reading about them.

Next to Disappear by Malcolm Richards *** (Emily Swanson series) The crime in this novel is based on a true story about psychiatric treatment but amateur detectives Emily and Jerome are not very believable. Nor is the way Emily is first drawn into the investigation. I will not be following the series.

The Same Breath by Gregory Ashe*** A fairly good mm romantic thriller set in Utah against a background of Mormon upbringing. It was not as good as Pretty Pretty Boys, and I read it because I was waiting for the sequel to that. Tean is a wildlife vet and has to help Jem find out what has happened to his brother who has been investigating ecological damage.

The poor:

The Snowdonia Killings by Simon McCleave** I was looking forward to a thriller set in North Wales but the story was boring, about unlikeable characters, and was padded with unnecessary info dumps about Welsh history and legends.

A Light Amongst Shadows by Kelly York and Rowan Allwood ** This couldn’t make its mind up. Was it a ghost story? A school story? An mm romance? It was mostly unpleasant and was told in a style that didn’t quite match the intended Victorian England setting.

And the abandoned:

The Soul Killer by Ross Greenwood. When the tale switched from the killer’s life story (not a trope I enjoy) to a very boring detective I gave up.

Cathedral of Lies by John Pye. The blurb suggests the reader might solve the puzzle for themselves after the end of the book. So, as I don’t really play armchair detective games, I didn’t really start reading.

Confessions of a Curious Bookseller by Elizabeth Green. There were letters and possibly diary entries. There were a lot of italics which I find hard to read when they last for pages and pages. There was no ‘hook’ to interest me in whatever the story might have been about.

March viewing

It was a glorious spring day when I took this photograph and the sky was in fact a wonderful shade of blue. My camera disagreed. All attempts to restore the colour using e.g. Photoshop merely resulted in poorer colour for the flowering currant and the forsythia behind it. So you’ll have to imagine the blue.

Only one five star programme this month.

The Great Pottery Throwdown***** My comfort zone on Sunday evenings. I really enjoyed watching the competitors and second guessing who would win (I was usually right). I also learnt a lot about pottery, both the technical aspects and decorative techniques. A lovely series with an underlying educational focus. I think it was really pleasing that the winner was coincidentally an NHS nurse.

Then there are the ones I enjoyed.

Chris Packham: Aspergers and me**** I enjoyed hearing about Packham’s voyage of self discovery. It was not, of course, like that of my grandson. All people on the autistic spectrum are different, as are the rest of us! I would like people to stop referring to Aspergers – partly for that reason. Autism covers a wide range of things, and I don’t think separating one section of people with autism is very helpful. But if it keeps Packham happy, that’s his decision, not mine.

All the sins Season 2**** Finnish noir. I liked season 1 and wondered whether the fact that season 2 was a kind of prequel would spoil it. It didn’t. The focus on the religious minority cult was fascinating all over again. I would, however, have liked a little more about society in Finland in general, to make comparisons that I’m sure were clear to the original target audience.

Bloodlands**** Another thriller set in Belfast. Irish noir? I quite like James Nesbitt so I enjoyed the series. I’m not sure it will sell well outside UK unless accompanied by a manual about the N.Irish ‘troubles’.

The Romantics and Us with Simon Schama**** An excellent set of programmes exploring the art of the Romantic movement. I particularly liked the way Schama linked the art, music and poetry to the politics of the time. I certainly ended up viewing some of the work from a new perspective. I did want another programme, to at least mention all the other creators who weren’t mentioned.

And the ones I at least watched to the end.

Miss World 1970: Beauty Queens and Bedlam*** An interesting look at the beauty queen world and the various attacks on the entire concept as well as the later lives of some of the participants. It didn’t entirely hold my interest and I found myself multi-tasking, but it highlighted a lot of things that were not at all clear in 1970 when I watched the news coverage in real time.

Man in Room 301*** Another Finnish noir. This time, I got fed up quite quickly with the flashbacks and the obvious red herrings, but stuck with it to find out what would happen in the end. Not really a thriller in the normal sense of the word, just a very sad look at some horrible family dynamics.

Unforgotten Seasons 3 and 4 *** I hadn’t seen Seasons 1 and 2 and by the time the series was recommended I think I only just caught Season 3. I liked the lead detectives and the format of one case per season. However, Season 4 was depressing, particularly the ending, and I was also slightly irritated at the way the two seasons followed the same pattern: four main suspects with a gradual untangling of their various stories and viewpoinst. If there’s a Season 5 I probably won’t bother.

As usual, there were a couple I abandoned

Grace (John Simm). Highly improbable – both cast and story. I watch a lot of cop shows and this one really didn’t make the grade for me.

Between the lines. I remember enjoying this first time around and we thought we’d try again but everything seemed very dated plus the film aspect ratio has changed. I’ve noticed this in other older films/series but they have to be better than this for me to ignore it.

I apologise for not having managed to make a note of the various channels and catch-up availability this month. I can, however, say that none of the above were on Sky (which we don’t have) or Sky Arts (which doesn’t have a catch up service for non-Sky customers).

Some great short stories and some abandoned reading

For once I can highly recommend all the short stories I found in February!

I watched Clare London reading her own mm stories on YouTube. The stories were very short and sweet – perfect for a brief retreat from real life. It was really good to have the author reading them and to see her face – I don’t often listen to audiobooks but these were delightful, mostly because of the feeling of closeness to the author. So five stars to the whole set!

Clare London on YouTube*****

BAH HUMBUG!  https://youtu.be/EFHdU6MY7iU
ONE OF THOSE DAYS  https://youtu.be/U7Co-6Fysfg
A NUMBERS GAME  https://youtu.be/h_J-YM7q3SU
COOKIES  https://youtu.be/Z3O5qNj8fGQ
SALSA  https://youtu.be/bfK9PwQkkOk

I also very much enjoyed: My Lonely Valentine by Jackie Keswick ***** The story centres round a misunderstanding about a ring on Valentine’s Day and was lovely.  

I abandoned three books in February. As usual, I must stress that since I only read a chapter (if that), this in no way reflects on the writing ability of the author, just on my personal taste. I hope this gives you both some idea of my preferences and also some flavour of the stories for those who might enjoy them – they were all perfectly well written.

Purrfect Murder (The Mysteries of Max bk 1) by Nic Saint

This seemed to be a cat as detective and I was disbelieving and irritated as soon as I realised the cat was going to talk to their detective partner. I enjoy animal stories (e.g. Watership down) and I like shifter stories. I quite like magical animals. Talking but otherwise non-magical animals, not so much. I believe the series is one of cosy mysteries and it might appeal to some of you.

Impossibly Fond by Tanya Chris

I have very little idea of where the plot was going. I just know there were far too many magical elements all introduced at the beginning and I felt overwhelmed. It appears to be a humorous story about a fledgling wizard. I suspect that for me, magic and humour don’t often mix well.

Don’t ever forget by MatthewFarrell

This crime story managed to confuse me almost straight away with far too many different points of view. It also annoyed me when the author described someone of 65 as old. I know 65 isn’t exactly young, but the general idea seemed to be that someone that age would inevitably be senile and in need of constant care. Rather than continue to lose my temper, I gave up.

Novels I really enjoyed in February

Last month’s novels were unusual in that some were extremely good, and others (which I will review later) I abandoned. For once, there were no merely good, poor, or dire books and I can really recommend all the following:

A Hope Divided (The Loyal League 2) by Alyssa Cole*****

This was fascinating. It explored aspects of the American Civil War that certainly never reached those of us who were not American. The love story of Marlie and Ewan is set against life in the confederate south. Marlie is the ‘free black’ daughter of an estate owner with an interest in medicine, and Ewan is a Unionist intelligence officer with scruples about his success. Their slow-growing romance highlights all kinds of questions of morality and identity. A really lovely book and extremely well written. The Loyal League books are on the same theme but are not a series so don’t hesitate to read this.

Other Half by Jordan Castillo Price*****

I was always going to love this, because I feel as if Vic and Jacob are old friends by now. They actually get married in this twelfth volume in the series (not counting sundry shorts) but of course they can’t do things in a normal fashion and the wedding is only part of an investigation. I enjoyed getting to know more of Jacob’s family, and it was interesting, too, to see the couple outside their Chicago city comfort zone. Highly recommended for those who enjoy ghosts with their crime stories, but you really need to read the Psycops series in sequence.

Returning Home by A.M. Rose*****

I started this shifter story without any great expectations because I saw from the blurb that it was set in the Omegaverse. However, I was soon drawn into the plot and absolutely loved the main characters, Reed and Jax. I really didn’t want the book to end. It was a standalone, so we got a happy conclusion despite some nail-biting moments. I was interested to see that the ‘author’ is in fact two people, who previously wrote fanfiction together. I think I know who they are and if so, I enjoyed their fanfiction, too.

Billy and the Beast by Eli Easton*****

This was a fabulous retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with a modern setting, some actual crime (apart from the theft of the rose) and an mm romance. Billy and Aaron are fascinating characters and I thoroughly enjoyed their story. Anyone who likes a modern twist on fairy tales would enjoy this.

Love by Chance by Blake Allwood****

This was a fun read, with an mm romance set in the catering industry. Enough research went into that to give the story a really solid background and a lot of interest outside the central love story. The minor characters were well developed which is always a plus for a book that is ‘just’ a love story. A contemporary romance novel with a lot of ‘extra’ to offer.

Magnificent Devices Books 5 and 6 by Shelley Adina. Novellas ****

Another publication I was looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. This steampunk series with strong female main characters and quirky crime is delightful. At the end of volume 6 we got a glimpse of romance for ‘the lady’ whose adventures took up the first four volumes. These two long novellas concentrated on two of her wards and I look forward to volumes 7 and 8 when I finish my self-imposed moratorium on book buying.

A Place of Execution by Val McDermid****

I like this author’s writing, and was intrigued by a story that took place near where I live (The Peak District). It also took place over my own adult lifetime here so felt particularly personal with references to events like the Moors Murders. The final icing on the ‘cake’ was the use of my father’s name for one of the detectives. However, I did not empathise with any of the main characters so found myself less than invested in the final outcome. Still, it’s a clever and fascinating detective story, beautifully written as usual.

The Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd****

The plot was so intriguing I found myself thinking about it whilst doing other things, but I didn’t like the style. Ackroyd jumps from one p.o.v to another, using different techniques for each to tell the tale of a serial killer in Victorian London. Clever, but jarring. The story is not that of Jack the Ripper, but it has echoes of it and the location and society are brought vividly to life. The story is chilling, as the identity of the murderer begins to dawn on the reader, and the whole effect is deftly manipulated and written. It stayed with me for some time and I would recommend it to anyone wanting a ‘different’ crime story, historical or otherwise. For me personally, I would prefer Ackroyd to stick to non-fiction which I think he does superbly.

The daffodils in the header picture are currently flowering in our garden.

February viewing

The image is an enlarged version of the social media icon ‘rainbow eye’ by ‘celticfire’

Documentaries:

Stonehenge: the lost circle revealed***** BBC2 with Prof Alice Roberts. This is on iPlayer for eleven months and is well worth watching if you’re in UK. A new approach to Stonehenge suggests the source of the inner circle of bluestones in West Wales. Roberts on archaeology is always worth listening to.

Monty Don’s American Gardens***** BBC2.The series is probably available on iPlayer. This was a kind of eye candy with beautiful gardens, but it was also a fascinating tour of the US seen through some of its most famous gardens.

Adrian Dunbar’s Coastal Ireland***** The two programmes were on Channel 5 so will be available on My5. Dunbar makes a good presenter. He is very relaxed, clearly loves his country, and listens carefully to the local experts he interviews. I’m looking forward to the new season of Line of Duty later in March.

Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure: Dementia Choir at Christmas**** On BBC. Last year Vicky took us through a fascinating experiment to see how music affected dementia sufferers, particularly those who were comparatively young. This was a follow up programme and although I cried and loved what happened I was disappointed that we only saw a couple of the original singers. That suggests the rest might have deteriorated beyond interview, but it would have been good to know something about them. Another brilliant presenter whose return to acting in Line of Duty will be welcomed (along with Martin Compston whose work I enjoyed last month in the dram Traces).

Drama

Deliver Us***** Danish crime – Scandi very noir on All4. A group of people in a small town wants to rid the community of a psycopath. The series explores the way people can descend into irrational or hateful actions when sufficiently provoked. Fascinating, dark, and gripping.

The Fall*****Irish (Belfast) crime, about as noir as the Scandi stuff. I was impressed by the filming and direction, especially the way scenes were cut so as to mirror the behaviour of the criminal and the police e.g. in bedroom, bathroom, car, etc. I was less impressed by Gillian Anderson as the lead investigator and thought she was badly cast, too glamorous for a UK detective superintendent. I don’t usually like crime stories where I know the identity of the criminal (in this case a serial killer) from near the beginning, but this totally hooked me. All three seasons of it (and yes, three seasons’ worth of one crime) are available on BBC iPlayer.  

Bullets**** Finnish crime (terrorism and intelligence), also on All4. This is, if anything, even darker than the two other series mentioned. It is set in Finland with Finnish actors, but with some characters from Chechen and Russia. There are, for that reason, some sections in English though the bulk of the series needs subtitles. The filming is very dark but then it’s winter in Helsinki. It is also quite gory and at times I had to close my eyes.

Death in Paradise. Series 10.**** A relaxing change from all the Euro-noir! Death in Paradise is cosy mysteries with gentle humour set in glorious Caribbean surroundings. I like the way that although there is a seconded British policeman in charge of the station, Caribbean characters get plenty of opportunity to make their mark, especially as competent police as well as friendly locals. The deaths in question occur near the beginning of each episode and there is the comfort of knowing all will be solved within the hour. This season, there was a two-episode mystery which felt quite strange.

Music

Johnny Cash: Live in concert***** I really enjoyed this. We watched it on Channel 5 but there are similar shows all over the place. I have most of the songs on Spotify and on CD but it was great seeing them sung live.

Last month’s fanfiction reviews

I should say before I begin that other than dragonflower1 whose other work I don’t know, these authors are friends of mine, online and in one case in rl too. But then I met them via fandom and I usually only make friends with people whose work I enjoy!

Anyone who is a fan of SGA might like to look at the secret santa stories from Christmas 2020. You can find the whole collection here: https://archiveofourown.org/collections/sga_secret_santa_2020/works and it contains a story by me (the author reveal was on Christmas Day). I wrote: Not Elves Exactly…

But here are my favourites that might well be accessible to non-fans. You can find them all in the collection.

lock it away (keep my heart at your place) by nagi_schwarz*****

In an accident, John is locked into a coma where he retreats into his dreams. Rodney is able to penetrate those, and gradually gain John’s trust in order to bring him out of the dream and the coma. The dreams are based on the world of Harry Potter, with all the magic implied, plus John’s love of music. Readers only need to know that Rodney is a scientist and John is military leader of the expedition to Atlantis.

A Matter of Trust by dragonflower1**** John/Todd

I felt almost obliged to read this, because I wrote John/Todd for an auction fic. This was much more strongly based on canon than my story, and had an open ending so that the reader could continue the tale themselves. (You can read my story here: Enemy Mine https://archiveofourown.org/works/26286616)

To access these stories you need to know that the Wraith are predatory enemies of the humans in the Pegasus galaxy and feed on their life force, and that Kolya and his men are human enemies of both Wraith and Atlantis.

Feel the Magic by Brumeier*****

A delightful introduction to a new ‘verse by the author, whose work I like. The SGA characters are recast in a special detective force, MagiCorps, which deals with magical crimes on this world rather than alien events on Atlantis. I’m hoping for more cases.

Not that kind of task force by Brumeier***** (find it via her dashboard)

Because of the MagiCorps story I wandered off to reread this one by the same author. The paranormal investigations here are for H5O, not SGA so the ‘verse has more canon elements, but is just as fascinating and again I want more.

Both these are AUs in that they take place in worlds with magic, not something that occurs in canon.

A deal to be made by pushkin666 ***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/28816863?  

The author was unable to resist a bdsm approach to the Johnson/Van de Leyen standoff. Hilarious (and very short) I think this is a perfectly valid use of real person fiction – not unlike cartoons and satire shows like Spitting Image.

The header picture is my current membership icon for OTW(AO3) which for those of you new to the fanfic world is Organisation for Transformative Works and one of their projects, Archive Of Our Own which hosts fanworks on ‘our own’ servers which means they’re not at risk of deletion. The OTW also campaigns for the legitimacy of fanworks and will defend them in court when necessary and appropriate.

What I abandoned last month and why

The header picture is an enlarged version of a social media icon by nomnomicons. Sometimes I feel like that puppy – ready to rip pages apart!! It isn’t always a criticism of the book (or film) because other people might well enjoy what I hate. Just as I hate rice pudding and my husband loves it! So for some of you these comments might serve as recommendations!

On television

Willie Nelson and Friends: Outlaws and Angels

Some time ago I dithered about booking for an expensive concert in Manchester featuring Willie Nelson then decided against it because I realised it was entitled Willie Nelson and Friends and I had no idea how great a part the friends would play. I’m so glad I didn’t pay out for something like this! I still love Willie Nelson, but his friends are a very mixed bunch and although some of them are talented and some are to my taste, those two qualities don’t always overlap, and then there are others who are neither. I got tired of watching and listening and felt I could always listen to his albums without being asked to listen politely to his friends as well.

Arctic Murders

This was the series set in Iceland which we thought would be interesting though I had a suspicion it was based on a book I’d tried and abandoned. The detectives themselves were not especially exciting, though one, borrowed from Norway, had some strange family problems. They did, however, get themselves into ridiculous situations. After a while, it gets tiring trying to send some kind of psychic message to a fictional character telling them not to go into a dark house alone etc. My husband continued to watch the series so I kind of saw it out of the corner of my eye while reading a book.

The Investigation

This was another my husband watched but I got carried away with something else on my laptops with my headphones on. It was based on a true story about a Danish journalist who was found murdered and I vaguely remember the case, but the way it was told was so slow I just couldn’t be bothered with it.

Dawn French Live: 30 million minutes

I like Dawn French as a comic actress, for example in The Vicar of Dibley. This was more of an autobiography and I got thoroughly bored very quickly.

Books 

A picture perfect holiday by ZA Maxfield

This was told in first person and was, I’m sure, realistic, but since I don’t like listening to too much swearing in real life or reading too much of it on the page I quickly decided the narrator was not someone I wanted to follow. I am not, please understand, particularly prudish. I’m as likely as anyone to swear if provoked. However, although I know there are people who use swear words every other word, I don’t have to listen to them – or read about them. I usually like and recommend this author and was sad when I found this book not to my taste.

Hold Still by Lisa Regan

This was a book borrowed from the Amazon Prime library and I was glad I hadn’t paid for it. I found it slow and confusing and gave up after a couple of chapters. I now have no memory of what it was about except that it involved a boring American detective.

January reading

 I’ve read a lot this month – but then that’s often true at this time of year when it’s cold and dark and Christmas etc. is all over.
The illustration is an enlarged version of an icon by magic_art used on my LiveJournal and Dreamwidth journals.
 

The doubly excellent

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman***** illustrated by Chris Riddell*****

Yes, two lots of five stars. This is a glorious book. The story, which twists and weaves versions of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White into a fresh tale with strongly feminist threads, never fails to delight, as expected at Gaiman’s hands. Then there are the illustrations by Chris Riddell. These are stunning black and white pictures with lots and lots of detail and very restrained but breathtaking gold highlights. Get the printed book (I got the paperback as a Christmas present) – you won’t regret it because although the story is not very long you’ll want to re-read and you’ll want to linger over the pictures.

And the ‘normally’ excellent

A Book of Christmas by William Sansom*****

Sansom unpacks Christmas and relates it to all kinds of other festivals of light, birth, etc. He looks at the way it’s celebrated in many and varied places. Fascinating. Although the book has a focus on Christmas it respects other beliefs and shows how festivals of all kinds develop and how humanity celebrates. It’s out of print but there are second hand copies available at a reasonable price.

A String of Lights by Alexa Milne*****


Lovely and seasonal story featuring Dev, an electrician, who travels south to put up the village lights for Henry who is manager of the local ‘big house’. Or is he? Buy it for next Christmas!

Pretty Pretty Boys by Gregory Ashe*****

The title is the name of a bar in the story. I’m not sure how to categorise this. It’s a cop buddy story, it looks at homophobia both within the police force and in a ‘bible belt’ area, and it’s a nail-biting crime mystery. The UST is almost unbearable and I need the sequel soon (as in when I’m allowing myself to buy books again). Extremely well written with excellent world building and character development. Not many mm romance/mysteries succeed at so many levels. Highly recommended,

Gideon by RJ Scott***** (Boyfriend for hire Bk 3)

The concept of the ‘boyfriend for hire’ business is a delightful background to this story where the owner/manager finally finds love despite his inability to understand or meet his own needs. The series is lovely with endearing characters.

Red Dirt Heart by NR Walker*****

A slow burn romance set in the Australian outback. A ranch owner has to come to terms with the way he has internalised his father’s disapproval and homophobia as he realises he cares for an American agricultural student spending time on the ranch. The Australian landscape is evoked in glorious detail.

There were no four star books this month

The readable

Away with the penguins by Hazel Prior***

This had rave reviews and it was a sufficiently intriguing story to keep me reading to the end but only just. This story of an elderly lady dropping everything to spend time in the Antarctic with a group studying penguins was quirky but not stunning. There’s a unexpected romance too (not the ‘heroine’) and of course the penguins are charming.      

New Hope for the Little Cornish Farmhouse by Nancy Barone***

I got very tired of Nina and her inability to form sensible relationships with family, friends and lovers. I think I have less patience with ‘stupid’ heroines than their male counterparts.

Playing it out straight by Andrew McQuinn***

I can’t remember anything about this book other than the names of the main characters so it can’t have been very good.

Bound by Rhys Ford*** Chinatown Demons Book 1

I found this fantasy cop story disappointing. It started well with good world building and character development but the case was unresolved and the UST remained unresolved. I don’t mind some aspects of a tale being held over to volume two but this seemed altogether unfinished as a novel.  

Shatterproof Bond by Isobel Starling*** Boxed set of 3.

I usually like this author but I am not really a fan of spy stories and this alternated almost unbelievable Bond-style spy story with a lot of explicit sex that did not further either the plot or character development. If you’re a Bond fan and you like very steamy mm romance you’d probably enjoy these and I think there are more to come. Just a warning – the proof reading is not up to this writer’s usual standard. Probably not her fault but still something else that put me off.

Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier by Terry Darlington***

I adored the first two books in the Narrow Dog trilogy. I was disappointed in this final volume. The author alternates autobiography (not desperately interesting) with two canal trips in Britain (instead of France and America). The main problems were that as a result I never really got the sense of place that he brought to the French and American trips, and inevitably we saw less of the whippet, the narrow dog of the title.

And the less than stellar

Undermined by Ripley Hayes** subtitle: A Gay Mystery.

I think this is meant to be the first in a cop buddy series. I won’t be reading any more. The characters were two dimensional and the plot was unsatisfactory with an unbelievable solution to the mystery. The writing was technically competent, I suppose, in that the grammar was fine.

I’ll reach short stories etc. and fanfiction in a later post.

What I watched in January

Obviously, in lockdown, everything is watched on the small screen but apart from news and politics programmes I rarely watch anything at the time it’s aired. Catch-up services of various kinds are my friends. Absolute favourites last month were Spiral (cop drama), Whisky Galore (classic comedy) and the New Year concert. By the way, it appears neither Word nor WordPress approve of the Brit spelling of ‘favourite’ – I can assure them (and you) that it’s correct.

TV series:


Crime favourites

Spiral Season 8. *****
(ten one hour episodes shown 2 at a time on BBC4) My all time favourite cop show. I think it’s all currently available on iPlayer (UK) but be warned, there are 8 seasons, you need to watch them in sequence, and iPlayer sometimes removes things at the drop of a hat. I’m devastated that it’s all over. Because there was no filming some years, and the show started in 2006 so no wonder it felt like part of my life. For anyone who doesn’t already know, it’s a French cops’n’lawyers saga (with subtitles) with both groups trying to protect Paris from a very seedy underworld by sometimes rather shady means. Although there are various romance elements from time to time, the main focus is on the relationships between Laure and Gilou (cops) and Josephine and Edelman (lawyers). The brilliant judge, Roban, was written out of the final season. A few cops and lawyers were written out earlier. The complex characters and the gritty criminal cases made for compulsive viewing as did the brilliant acting and direction.

Traces****
We really enjoyed this six one hour episode Brit crime series on BBC1. Since watching, we’ve learnt that although ostensibly set in Dundee it was in fact filmed in North West England. It’s based on a book by acclaimed crime novelist Val McDermid, and the main focus is on the forensic teams rather than the police though Martin Compston from Line of Duty makes a good policeman character again. Available on iPlayer in UK. I read yesterday that another show based on a McDermid book set in Scotland is being filmed.

The Bay Season 2 ****
Another Brit series set in Morecambe Bay. I abandoned the first season because of unbelievably stupid policing, but husband liked it so I gave the second season a chance and quite enjoyed it. Available on ITV Hub (UK) and you don’t need to watch Season 1 to make sense of Season 2. Six  one hour episodes per season.

All the Sins Season 1 ****
Finnish detective drama on Channel 4 with very flawed detectives: a gay man who has been abusing his partner and a woman who shot her abusive husband then left their daughter to be brought up by her grandmother. Interesting serial killer case set in Finland’s ‘bible belt’ with lots of discussion about rights both re religious belief and re feminism. Nice shots of the apparently very flat Finnish countryside and some exploration of Finnish culture. Six 45minute episodes, in Finnish with subtitles, and there is another season but it seems it’s a kind of prequel, with a different detective pair so I haven’t decided yet whether to watch it. Both seasons are currently available on All4 (UK)

Drama favourites

Whisky Galore ***** (rewatch) The famous Brit comedy about a shipwreck off the Hebridean coast during WWII. Black and white, with lots of actors you’ll recognise including a young Gordon Jackson and a middle aged James Robertson Justice. Hilarious, beautifully timed comedy. This must have been the original inspiration for Dad’s Army. I thought it might not be as good the third time round but if anything it was better. Still available on iPlayer (UK) for about a fortnight but you can’t download, just stream. About 90minutes.

Revolution of the Daleks**** The New Year Special episode of Dr Who. I suppose it was all right. I like the current Doctor but find her surrounded by far too many extra companions. I’m not sure I wanted yet more daleks.

Comedy favourite 

The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown**** Three ten minute episodes with the vicar trying to do everything via Zoom. Very funny and available on iPlayer for another 10 months.  

Music favourites

New Year Concert from Vienna***** Gorgeous. Previously reviewed separately in more detail. (No longer available to download or stream)

Dolly Parton: 50 years at the Opry**** I enjoy Country Music and I admire Dolly Parton. This was a nice way to spend an evening – 75 minutes on BBC 2 celebrating 50 years of Dolly and her music. However, I would have liked to hear more songs in full. The programme is available for another couple of months on iPlayer (UK)

The photograph is of January skies in Aachen from a friend’s house. No photoshopping other than cropping and resizing.    

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..