An ‘anthology’ read in July

Molewort: a garden invader, strange but welcome. The flowers are unremarkable but those seedheads!!

As some of you know I spent a lot of July trying to get through my tbr list. I had uploaded a lot of short stories and novellas, most of them free or very cheap, to my Kindle. I think it was a kind of insurance when we were travelling frequently and I was afraid of running out of reading matter!.I’d had most of them all ages and no longer had any idea why some had appealed to me in the first place. Others were by favourite authors but had somehow sunk down my list. Anyway, I read them to the exclusion of almost anything else other than newspapers and journals whilst enjoying the garden during our spell of nice weather.

I won’t (mostly) go into great detail but will give you a list, with the usual stars. Some were surprisingly good – I say surprisingly because on the whole I prefer novels. Not because there’s anything wrong with short stories – I’ve written some myself and stories are as long as they want to be – but because I like being able to ‘lose’ myself in a long novel whereas short stories bring me back to earth rather too quickly. The four star ones I would recommend. The three star are pleasant enough but not very memorable. The two and one star were not for me. This was at least partly because some of the plots were thin and seemed to be an excuse to write very explicit sex, something I only enjoy if I’m already invested in the characters and the story. I treated the list as an anthology though nobody apart from me had deliberately put them together.

So – my July anthology!


Foxy Heart: Blade and Dust by Rhys Lawless**** Rhys Lawless is another pen name for Rhys Everly. I loved this short story with magic and mayhem and might even try the series to which it’s the prequel. (This is obviously why authors provide freebies.) A fox shifter finds his soul mate but they are instantly on the run from witch hunters. Loses a star because it needs to go further. And yes, I assume the next book will do that, but I would have liked slightly more in this one.

My Rainy Valentine by Ruby Moone***** Excellent very short story set in my local city. An example of really good storytelling art. The people standing by at a tram stop get involved in a Valentine’s day apology and relationship development,which is both hilarious and romantic.

The Christmas Curse also by Ruby Moone**** Nice shifter story with echoes of The Princess and the Frog.

The Case of the forgetful genius by Charlie Cochrane.**** Not sure if I’d read/reviewed this before. It rang bells but maybe just because of being about her actor amateur detectives, Alasdair and Toby. Worth a re-read if that’s what it was!

A Flirty Dozen by JL Merrow**** An interesting collection. Some appealed to me more than others (even this very good writer can’t make me care about ghouls) but all were intelligent and well written stories. These were mm with some romance and some sex. I have also got A Feminine Flirty Dozen**** (ff stories) I enjoyed it just as much, especially the ones with paranormal elements or that referenced fairy tales.

Two flash fics from newsletters:

Ewe’s Stocking by Charlie Cochrane****Clever spy story set in WW2

Perfect Picture by Clare London****Sweet very brief story featuring an artist and his lover.

Not particularly recommended but well written and readable.

The Machine Stops by EM Forster*** A sci fi curiosity, I suppose. Published in 1909 it’s a kind of echo or pre-echo (?) of Brave New World and 1984, and is surprisingly ‘modern’, relating well to things like our internet usage and the pandemic lockdowns. However, I found the style very stiff, and never really empathised with the characters. I was surprised to find typos but perhaps that’s because it was transcribed from the original magazine publication.

Total Fabrication by Saxon James*** A TV competition story (it’s quite a common trope – they meet, they compete, etc.) which was nicely done but could have been expanded and given greater detail. One of those short stories that reads like a summary of a novel.

My Fake Billionaire by Ana Ashley and Rhys Everly*** A Braxton Boys series short story. A pleasant tale of a billionaire who finds his heart’s desire tending the library on the island he is buying. I gather the series follows a number of ‘old boys’ of the school.

Kilts and Lies by KA Belle*** A typical ‘fake boyfriend’ story that ends up – of course – with real romance. Another one that could have been longer with more detail. The families, all minor characters, were interesting.

Treehouse Whispers by Elouise East***Pleasant but unmemorable story about two guys who have shared a treehouse since childhood.

Faking Familiar by Abigail Kade*** Witches and familiars in a prequel to a series but none of the characters were particularly interesting and I won’t be following it.

Five Fake Dates by DJ Jamison*** Quite a sweet story – friends to lovers.

Ante Up by Charlie Cochet*** A Four Kings Security Short. Dancer gets together with bar manager.

The Second Act by HI Day*** Actor renews relationship.

The Artist’s Model by ZA Maxfield.*** Well written story but I do wish this author would stick to novels or at least novellas – I usually enjoy those but am invariably disappointed by the shorts.

Keep paddling by Charlie Descoteaux*** Two slightly older men with mild physical handicaps. Pleasant but not very memorable.

Just Say When by EM Lindsey*** Blind vlogger Tristian challenges chef Enzo to a blindfold cookery session with predictable results.

Coffee, tea or me? by Elizabeth Silver*** Fairly boring but competent short story about busy bookseller meeting barista.

Not recommended

Boyfriend Emergency by Rheland Richmond** Unlikely fake boyfriend story that seemed to be just an excuse to write sex.

Overnight Stay by Lynn Michaels** Another excuse for explicit sex with no real story.

Anh Sang by Barry Brennessel** Depressing account of doomed mm romance during the French departure from Vietnam. Written a bit like a travelogue.

Definitely not recommended

The Naked Cleaner by Sophia Soames* I hated this, mostly because of the unnecessary amount of foul language used by both the main characters. Weird story about a naturist who goes out cleaning and has an arranged meeting with a hermit-like IT expert. Unlikely and unsatisfying.

Books I read in July

The buddleia has almost taken over our front garden and I would like it pruned but in July the flowers are spectacular.

Quite a few books last month. I finally got my tbr list under control – yes, there are still some fairly ‘heavy’ books in waiting, but I allowed myself to buy a few by favourite authors, download some freebies and also borrow some titles from the Amazon Prime library.

There were more excellent titles than usual, partly because I was buying favourites, but the Prime library had some winners this time too. The five star books are all highly recommended.

And the mountains echoed by Khaled Hosseini***** Sweeping story of Afghan diaspora which is gripping but huge cast makes it hard to identify with any particular characters, even the brother and sister forcibly parted in the first section. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first two in the series, but it was still a great read and I was glad I’d requested it as a Christmas present.

The Bridge on the River Wye by Adam Fitzroy***** Exciting mystery romance with plenty of police and amateur investigation as Rupert tries to help Jake with his organic farm. Great minor characters. Example of a freebie that will send me looking for more by this author.

Taking Stock by A.L. Lester***** Growing relationship between a man forced out of a London company and a farmer who has had a stroke and is recovering. I loved the details, the farming community, the minor characters, and the way the sex was left right to the end.

The Gilded Scarab by Anna Butler***** Steampunk AU London 1900. Boer war with planes. British Museum. Fabulous!

Plain Jane Wanted by Rose Amberly***** Perfect beach/holiday read. (Sunny garden in my case.) An mf romance set in the Channel Isles. (Prime Library.)

The Bone Jar by SW Kane***** Outwardly a police procedural that starts intriguingly and ends with a great deal of excitement. First in a series featuring DI Kirby and I might read others because it was well written, but I won’t seek them out because the detective was the least interesting of the characters. (Prime Library.)

Stop Cock by JL Merrow***** Another great addition to the Plumber’s Mate series. Tom and Phil are on their honeymoon in Sorento but of course crime comes along to upset their plans. First buy after dealing with my tbr list. I’d had it on my to buy list for ages!

Trench Warfare by Fiona Glass***** Great mm thriller with paranormal elements set on (in?) an archaeological dig. Gripping and entertaining. I wanted it to be longer and would love to read another dig/mystery with these characters. The archaeology details were fascinating.

Then there were the very good.

Family Unit by ZA Maxfield**** An mm romance/thriller featuring the attempted abduction of a child by it’s biological parent. A good story that lost a star because there was too much explicit sex when it furthered neither plot nor character development.

In the Shadow of the Wolf by RJ Scott and Diane Adams**** Three interlinked shortish novels dealing with cops and conspiracies in a wolf/human society.Shattered Secrets/Broken Memories/Splintered Lies. Satisfying and engrossing but since it was just, in the end, the one ‘case’ I wanted more which won’t happen because Rob, the human ‘alpha’ of the mixed team, is no longer a cop. I liked the world building and the exploration of the psychology of the wolves, through an examination of their romances, mm and mf.

Muscling Through by JL Merrow**** Interesting relationship between a handsome academic and a sinister looking working guy. Perhaps not quite long enough to make five stars.

Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe**** An interesting historical read – rumours, quacks, angels and ghosts, arguments about methods of isolation, attempts to escape lockdown, etc. So different from our modern world and yet nothing ever changes! (Available free online.)

Isle of Where by Sue Brown**** A nice (and well written) mm romance rather spoilt by too much explicit sex that furthered neither character development nor plot. Setting it on the Isle of Wight made it sort of Brit but exotic…A freebie to introduce her series but as she clearly caters to the ‘more sex please’ market I probably won’t read more.

Don’t Lie to Me by Willow Rose**** Competent thriller set in Florida. I enjoyed it but not to the extent of seeking out the rest of the Eva Rae Thomas mysteries. (Prime library.)

And finally there were a couple of readable but probably forgettable ones.

Catastrophe by Deirdre O’Dare*** A shifter story centred on a zoo threatened by animal rights activists. Some less than stellar writing and the minor characters were almost wallpaper but the plot was exciting enough to keep me reading.

A Poison Tree by JE Mayhew*** Intriguing plot – pity about the characters and the world building. Set on the Wirral and because that’s almost ‘local’ I was interested. This police procedural is book 1 in a series but I won’t bother with it. (Prime Library.)

Nothing poor or dire this month and nothing abandoned.

What I watched in July

Season of ripe grass and violent hay fever…

There were some interesting things to watch in July

Black Space***** Israeli cop drama centred round a high school shooting. Excellent acting and direction. On Netflix in 8 episodes and hopefully there will be another season. Thoroughly deserves the good reviews. (May be Blackspace – I’m never sure how to search correctly as I’ve seen both versions in reviews.)

Black Spot Seasons 1 and 2 ***** (Netflix.) The ending wasn’t a cliff hanger but we could really do with another season to answer some questions and get some of the characters into a more satisfactory place. Think Twin Peaks but in the eastern forested mountains of France. For those who don’t like subtitles there is an English language version. Disturbing and gripping with paranormal elements, violence and occasional humour. Each episode has a solved crime, but the paranormal stuff is in the over-arc plot. The original title is Zone Blanche; the area has poor phone signals which is part of the problem faced by the police.

Katla **** (Netflix again) Icelandic noir (aka horror) watched out of the corner of my eye because husband had it on. In a town destroyed by a volcanic erruption, people start to reappear… I suppose it deserves at least four stars for acting, direction, etc. but it wasn’t quite my scene! I went to bed before the end of the last episode but my husband updated me on the plot resolution.

Nordic Murders Season 2 *** (More 4.) I loved season 1 of this police drama set on the island of Usedom in northern Germany on the Polish border. But in season 2 the lead detective has been written out (in the first episode) and this means we are left with a new and less convincing lead, and a gap in the intriguing family dynamics that underpinned the first season. As a result, I started to get bored and regard it as being mainly about the scenery. I don’t grudge the actress if she needed to leave – if she didn’t, I think the writers made a mistake.

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.


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.


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.


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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.