June reviews

For once I had them ready on 1st, but had too much else to post!

Films and TV

Johnny English Reborn***** Hilarious spoof spy story – provided you like Rowan Atkinson.

War on Plastic**** Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall doing his bit for, or rather, against pollution. Some interesting information emerged, especially on how local authorities deal with waste, and how changes in packaging affect supermarket prices. I ended up feeling the ordinary person couldn’t do much, if they were already aware of pollution, recycling, etc. And if they weren’t, I doubt if they’d watch the three programmes.

Years and Years*** Russell T Davies looks at the near future. Well produced and acted, but I found it very depressing as it just confirmed all my fears about the way the world (and UK in particular) is going. Also, whilst it was interesting to have the drama focus on a single extended family, it was rather surprising and unlikely to find one with so many pertinent ‘problems’.

Montalbano*** I used to love this series but I was disappointed. There wasn’t nearly enough Sicilian countryside, and the detectives seemed determined to sit in their office waiting for witnesses to come and report to them. I watched the first two part story then gave up.

My Gay Dog and Other Animals*** I agreed with one reviewer of this who said that even though it was animals the watcher could end up feeling like a voyeur. And although there was some discussion of the reasons for the observed behaviour there was very little science.

Books

Recommended:

The Heights by Amy Aislin F***** This was a free e-book and I was surprised and impressed. A child is abducted and then found as an adult. The writer makes the various reactions of family members extremely interesting and of course the mm romance has the ‘found’ adult as one of the protagonists and it is rewarding to see how he copes.

Fallout and Body Work by Sara Paretsky***** I bought Fallout from the sale trolley at my local library, and remembered enjoying the V.I.Warshawski series so bought more for my Kindle. The female detective was one of the ones that inspired my own writing and the stories are still fresh and gripping. Vic is a fascinating heroine.

Seeing Red by Alex Beecroft***** I gave a whole post to advertising this latest novel in the Trowchester series, and the book itself was just as good as I expected. The ‘bad’ boy’s motives are interesting and well-explained, and the owner of the threatened tea shop is a delightful character. I love these series where we gradually get to know a whole community and meet major characters from other books as minor ones in the current story. The same applies to the next two recommendations here.

Resonance, Resistance and Renaissance by Lilian Francis***** Another mm series with a well developed village community in Slopy Bottom. I enjoyed the third book even more than the first two, since getting to know so many of the minor characters.

Choosing Home, Returning Home, and Staying Home by Alexa Milne***** Again, an entire community is brought to life on the north east coast of Scotland. The first book deals with the ex-footballer owner of a local hotel where people from the next volumes stay, eat and marry. The second book introduces a local policeman and his love for a man badly injured by a city gang, and in a wheelchair. The gang kill the husband of one of the minor characters, who becomes the ‘lead’ in the third story, which also features a Church of Scotland minister and his inevitable angst over coming out as gay. The author tackles each theme with great sensitivity and gives an illuminating look at current problems faced by gay men as well as developing the location in loving detail.

Single by RJ Scott*****After a breakup, Asher decided to keep the baby born to a surrogate mother. So as a single dad, his social life seems restricted but a trio of guys, policeman, firefighter and doctor, move in next door and his life changes for the better. Heartwarming and romantic.

Heat by RJ Scott and Chris Quinton***** Interesting romance with a touch of mystery set in a restaurant in Salisbury. I’m hoping to hear more about Lewis and Devon and their families and friends. This is a collaborative work and both authors are good – it’s impossible to tell who wrote what, though I suspect Quinton was at least responsible for the locations.

And the rest:

Creative Interior Design (Ward Lock)***Worth keeping as a work of reference. I must have skimmed through it when I first bought it years ago but to be honest it seems a little dated now. Some interesting information about various periods and styles. As is often the case in this type of glossy ‘coffee table’ book I wonder whether the photographer always reads the text. I’m also not sure about the title: Interior Design, yes, but Creative?

Broken Guns by teromain*** An original novel published on AO3 (which accepts original works with some connection to fanworks e.g. common fanfic tropes). Competent writing and I found the story, set in a steampunk au, fairly gripping but I’m not usually a fan of romance between minor criminals, however much the author differentiates between those who choose a life of crime and those who are catapulted into it, so won’t be seeking any more of their work.

Fanfic

I read some long (novel length) and excellent fics this month, in Sherlock, SGA and H5O, including one where Steve from H5O is a vampire who wants to become human, but basically, everything required too much prior knowledge of canon to recommend to the casual reader.

May Reviews

TV and film

In case anybody wonders, most of my TV viewing consists of news, in-depth politics, interviews, etc. I really enjoy BBC Parliament, for example, but am not about to highlight specific debates here! This section is for programmes I would recommend if they are still availabe.

The excellent:

Line of Duty season 5***** I adore this show and although season 5 wasn’t quite as good as the early seasons, it still gets 5 stars from me and I’m looking forward to season 6.

Wellington: The Iron Duke Unmasked (BBC4)***** Lots of interesting material about Wellington’s later life and his marriage. I’m a huge ‘fan’ of the Napoleonic war period – fiction and non-fiction alike – so I enjoyed this.

Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure ***** Vicky is, of course, one of the main actors in Line of Duty but here she showed her amazing skills as a presenter. She watched her grandmother suffer from Alzheimer’s so jumped at the chance to help with a scientific experiment to see how music affects people with the condition.

The good:

Adele: In her own Words**** I didn’t really know Adele’s music before I watched this – wrong generation, I suppose! Anyway, I now have some of her songs on my Spotify list and was fascinated by this exploration of her personality and work.

The Hunt for Jihadi John**** This was grim viewing. I knew about his ISIS actions, of course, but not much about the man himself. This programme corrected that ignorance.

Botany: A Blooming History**** An intriguing look at plants. As well as the inevitable eye candy we got, in three programmes, a history of botany and botanists ranging from early agricultural experiments to today’s genetic modification techniques.

The merely watchable:

Our Kind of Traitor (Ewan McGregor)*** Forgettable spy film but McGregor was, of course, watchable.

Killing Eve*** I didn’t mean to watch this, and didn’t like it much, but husband was hooked so… Brilliant acting, and I think all of them deserved Baftas, but the concept – assassins and so on – didn’t appeal to me.

Cowboys and Aliens*** I think I’ve seen this before but if so had forgotten a lot of the story. Mediocre plot, acting and direction.

Books

The excellent and the good:

Healing Glass by Jackie Keswick ***** I had an advance review copy. See my separate review during May.

Daughters of the Dragon by William Andrews***** A fascinating novel about the women who were forced into being ‘comfort’ workers for Japanese troops during WW2. It’s told from the point of view of a grandaughter of one of them, brought up in America.

A Merciful Silence by Kendra Eliott***** I didn’t realise I’d bought this fourth thriller featuring Mercy and Truman. It was as enjoyable as the first three but the series is becoming a little formulaic and I may not continue, especially now that Mercy and Truman seem to be engaged to be married.

Murder House (Psycop 10) by Jordan Castillo Price*****
I love the Psycop series. In this one, Vic is undercover, away from Jacob, investigating a house where someone died.
Hue Tint and Shade by Jordan Castillo Price***** A long short story, one of the Bittersweet Candy Kisses collection featuring the magical chocolatier Chance as well as Nathan and Tommy, the couple for whom he arranges romance. I love the whole series, including stories by other authors.

Montana Sky by RJ Scott (Montana 6)*****This is the last of the Montana series and I shall be sorry to leave Crooked Tree Ranch. I still think that statistics suggest there are too many gay men in the immediate area but I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Martin, Tyler, and the geology of the region.

Moonstruck by Aleksandr Voinov ***** I loved the fact that the author really understands fan fiction, and brings Anthony and Samir through Samir’s work in the ‘world’ of Anthony’s published series. The fact that the series involves werewolves made me want to read it though I am sadly aware that it is a plot device and not an actual set of novels.

Rewind by Marshall Thornton (Pinx 4)***** I’ve been enjoying this series of ‘cozy’ murders investigated by an intrepid group of gay men in Los Angeles during the worst years of the AIDs epidemic. In this volume, Noah wakes up next to a dead body but although the victim did have HIV that wasn’t the cause of death.

Surprise Groom (Marital Bliss 1) by DJ Jamison ***** I shall be following the author’s new series. Her writing is excellent and I think she is at her best when exploring themes with mild thriller elements. Caleb, Julien and an island dedicated to providing an exclusive marriage venue form an interesting story.
Special Nights by DJ Jamison **** This loses a star because there is less to grip the reader in this pleasant romance. Sam has insomnia and meets Hunter, a barista. It’s a short novel or a long short story and is well written.

Bone to Pick (Digging up Bones 1) by TA Moore**** This is a story of a police dog handler and an FBI agent. The thriller element, with the missing child, was well presented and the writing was good. However, my favourite character was the dog, Bourneville, and I don’t think I’ll be following the series.

Kip’s Monster by Harper Fox **** As with all Harper’s books, this was beautifully written, but loses a star because I found it thoroughly depressing despite the upbeat ending. I was glad Kip and Oz got together, and I appreciated the Loch Ness scenes, but I couldn’t stop wondering what life was going to bring for Oz’s grandmother and Kip’s mother. Nothing good, I suspect.

A Few Good Fish by Amy Lane (vol 3)**** I enjoyed this finale to the story of Jackson and Ellery and their battle against maverick military experiments. The main pleasures of the book lie in the explosions, and the romance, and the author points out that anyone wanting facts about the police or army should avoid it. It loses a star because, just like the middle volume in the series, some extra sections from the beginning and middle of the story which originally appeared in the author’s blog are tacked on at the end, just when the tale had reached a satisfactory conclusion. Poor structuring.

The reasonable:

Say You’re Sorry (Sacramento 1) by Karen Rose*** I’ve always enjoyed Rose’s books even though they’re formulaic (police or FBI agent meets woman investigator/witness/pathologist/lawyer etc. and romance ensues while the thriller continues). However, I was less than keen on this one. About half the book was told from the point of view of the serial killer. I can see why: it was necessary, to avoid too much telling instead of showing at the end. But I’m simply not a fan of criminal point of view. I won’t be following the series.

The ones I wouldn’t recommend:

Less by Andrew Sean Greer ** This was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and to be honest I wondered whether it was because a minor character gets a Pulitzer, which gives rise to a conversation about how to pronounce it… Arthur Less is a mediocre writer of gay fiction, who travels to avoid the wedding of an ex-lover. Most of the book reads like a travelogue with a lot of purple prose more suited to brochures. Arthur himself is not a particularly endearing character. The narrator seems too intrusive though the reason for this becomes clear at the end. I was mostly bored but persisted because I’d paid for the book and also wanted to know why the critics liked it. I still have no answer to that.

A Fistful of Emmett by Jambrea Jo Jones** Emmett and Kit are two-dimensional characters and the story had little to grip the reader. It followed the basic ‘gay for you’ trope but I was bored and only finished it because it was short. The writing was less than stellar, with lots of repetition.

No Brief Affair by Ryan Taylor. Abandoned. The story switches point of view between Liam and John, repeating the same events from a different perspective. There is also too much explicit sex. I got bored very quickly and didn’t care what happened to the characters.

Fanfic

Another month with a lot of reading that relied on canon familiarity, including the Lewis Spring Challenge, and a new Supernatural series my daughter is writing.

I’ll recommend the following:

Running on Air by eleventy7
https://archiveofourown.org/works/3171550
Harry Potter fandom. Draco is missing and the case is given to Harry as an auror. Very slow burn mm romance with no sex during the story. Beautifully written.

To Steal a Kiss From Borrowed Lipe by corruptedkid**** https://archiveofourown.org/works/16958304
Bandom AU. I’m always interested in how other writers handle magic. Gerard and Frank accidentally exchange bodies when a magic user tries to ‘help’ their relationship.

April Reviews

I’m sure April this year was even shorter than usual. (*glares at April*). And here we are, already a week into May.

TV and Film

Line of Duty seasons 1, 2, and 3 *****
After watching Season 4 last month we binge-watched these prior to watching Season 5. Well worth the effort! I absolutely love the concept and the characters and particularly the long interview/interrogation scenes which are totally gripping.

A United Kingdom *****
The story of Seretse Khama of what is now Botswanaland and his marriage to an English woman. They found prejudice in both their countries and a great deal of British political manipulation too, but overcame it to provide themselves and what was then Bechuanaland with a hopeful and positive future. Interesting and romantic.

Sergeant Pepper’s Musical Revolution*****

Howard Goodall explored the album and the work of the Beatles in a fascinating in-depth look at the band and their music. No longer available on catch-up but if it returns, watch it!

Classic Albums, Paul Simon: Graceland****
This looked at Simon’s collaboration with South African musicians and had some interesting footage but was not as exciting, for me, as the Goodall programme about the Beatles.

Natural World: Tasmania****
I enjoyed seeing the landscape and fauna of Tasmania, not a country we often get to see on television. As with most Natural World programmes, however, I found myself just enjoying the ‘eye candy’ and almost falling asleep.

Legend of Zorro **
I didn’t deliberately watch this but was not about to be driven out of the lounge. I wasn’t impressed. I gather from family comments that it wasn’t as good as the more famous prequel.

Baptiste: abandoned
I got irritated with this Dutch/Belgian/British police show. I found the plot unlikely and the main character never really came alive for me, possibly because I hadn’t watched the earlier show, ‘The Missing’. I gather this was a spin-off.

The Bay: abandoned
Another series with an unlikely plot and some unlikely police officers with dysfunctional families.

Books

The excellent

Harry Potter: A History of Magic published by British Library and Bloomsbury*****
This is the book of the British Library exhibition which I was unable to visit. The book is beautifully illustrated and I loved the way it tied a lot of scholarly research to J.K. Rowling’s work. There were some wonderful photographs of antiquities from various museums, and some delightful art by Jim Kay and by J.K Rowling herself. Unless, like me, you write fantasy and want a magical reference book, I would recommend ordering this from your local library. It’s worth looking at the pictures in all their glory in the expensive hardback edition. The articles are by a variety of writers, and are introduced by specialists in each aspect of the history of magic.

A Merciful Death, A Merciful Truth and A Merciful Secret by Kendra Elliot*****
This series consists of police procedurals set in a rural town that was Mercy’s birthplace. She is now an FBI officer helping to investigate deaths that have possible links to terrorism, and there is the added interest of a very slow moving romance between her and the local Chief of Police. The books gain an extra dimension from the detailed explanations about ‘preppers’, the people (like Mercy’s fictitious family) who prepare for The End Of The World As We Know It. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book and bought the next two. The series continues and I might buy more but not just yet. Recommended.

Midnight Flit by Elin Gregory*****
This is a sequel to Eleventh Hour and follows the later adventures of Miles and Briers in the 1930s. This time, there are threats to Miles’ parents and the duo have to protect them and themselves from mayhem and potential murder. The characters are well drawn and the period is wonderfully evoked. Highly recommended but you probably need to read the books in order.

Old Sins by Charlie Cochrane*****
This is a continuation of the series about Robin, a detective, and his partner Adam, a teacher. As well as being a gripping detective story it has a romance element (they are planning their wedding but finding it hard to decide on various factors) and a lot of well developed minor characters. Perhaps the main attraction is their dog, Campbell, a Newfoundland who enriches both their lives and their investigations. Again, highly recommended but start with the first book in the series!

Chaucer by Peter Ackroyd ****

I enjoyed this biography of the poet, which also contained a lot of detail about mediaeval London. I knocked off a star, not because of any criticism of the writing but because I had the paperback edition and found it irritating to be frequently referred to the coloured illustrations which I gather are only to be found in the hardback. I think a good editor should have dealt with this issue. There were black and white illustrations but these lost a lot of the detail I’m sure would be in the coloured ones.

Red Fish, Dead Fish by Amy Lane****

This is volume two in the Fish out of Water series and I found the continuing story of Ellery and Jackson trying to uncover high level corruption gripping and interesting. I have bought the third volume. However, I would criticise the structure of the book though this might be due to editing rather than the author. At the end, there are what are called Accompanying Stories. These, we are told, took place between volumes one and two, and are referenced in the main text. I think they could easily have been edited into the main story but if that was not the author’s wish, and if the publishers wanted to have them at the end I think at the very least this could have been highlighted at the beginning. The contents of the extra stories expanded and clarified parts of the main tale, and I found it annoying to be presented with them as what amounted to flashbacks after the volume was over. I have the third volume and am looking forward to it, and am very glad I read the extras.

The acceptable or even quite good.

Skythane by J Scott Coatsworth***
Absolutely no criticism of the writing but this was too much of a fantasy/sci fi mix for me. I prefer stories to be one or the other, and this straddled the two genres. There were winged people, a doorway between worlds, both those worlds in danger, and some worrying chases and villains. The characters were interesting, especially the young boy who ends up saving everyone. There is mm romance but it doesn’t overwhelm the plot and I never felt particularly keen to know whether the protagonists would end up together or not. There is some good world building but it didn’t seem to be able to decide whether the worlds were magical or science-based. I’m sure this doesn’t spoil the story, but it did mean it wasn’t quite for me. I’m not absolutely sure why. In some ways the concept (the joined worlds) echoes both the Harbinger series, which I’ve abandoned, and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor, which I adored. I suspect I have to empathise deeply with the main character or characters before accepting the rest of the cross-world trope.

Rune Witch Mysteries (complete series) by Victoria DeLuis***

Urban magic set in South Wales. The concept intrigued me and I liked the characters and location. By the end of the series (four books) these had become almost overwhelmed with generic magic, demons, etc. and I felt less empathy with Summer and Thomas than at the beginning. I actually think the author should probably have given Summer and her non-magical boyfriend more cases to solve before setting them out to tackle the disappearance of Summer’s father and the family problems of fae royalty. Some good writing, and the stories are very readable.

My Partner the Wolf by Hollis Shiloh***
I like werewolves and this one, a cop who can trace victims in his wolf form, is no exception. But I would have liked more cop work and less about the relationship between Sean and Tom. A certain amount was essential, to get Tom estranged from his ex and established with Sean, but more police procedural from a wolf’s viewpoint would have made this a stronger story.

Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman***
Quite a sweet ff romance between a young woman who dyes knitting yarn and an artist who inspires her. It’s fairly short and has pleasant enough characters, Clara and Danielle, but the story, despite some angst-ridden moments, is slightly thin.

And the dire

Wranglers (Rodeo Boys 1) by Gavin E Black: no stars

This was very short so I did finish it, hoping to find a plot. I failed. It was in fact just a series of mm sex scenes and I certainly wouldn’t read any sequels.

Dangerous to know: The Chronicles of Breed: Book 1 by K T Davies: abandoned
I didn’t feel any empathy for the main character, a rather vaguely drawn half-alien rogue, which after a couple of chapters made me abandon the book.

Fanfic

All the Important Words Unspoken by blamebrampton. *****

https://archiveofourown.org/works/5494034 73,456 words
This is a Harry Potter AU mm/mf/gen/auror casefic. I suppose that needs some clarification. If all the events of the HP books had taken place in Victorian times… Then if Harry as chief auror and Hermione as his ‘boss’ decided to recruit Draco with his knowledge of herbs and potions… And if Narcissa, desperate to marry Draco off, had chosen Astoria, who actually preferred Charlie Weasley… Then throw in smuggling of magical creatures and some delightful vignettes of real life muggle politicians. There is romantic subtext but it never goes further than a chaste kiss. Altogether delightful and highly recommended.

The other fanfic I read this month was probably impenetrable unless you were immersed in the canon stories of The Hobbit or Stargate Atlantis though I have to say And Maybe a Little Bit Wiser by Goddess47 puzzled me. There was no apparent connection with the SGA canon characters other than the names. The author admitted the story had initially been original then she decided to edit it to suit SGA which she’d had in mind all along. She didn’t do a very good job of it. I loved Small_Hobbit’s A Hobbit Bingo, a series of drabbles and ficlets with a short AU detective story featuring Thorin in the 1930s. However, I decided a detailed knowledge of canon was needed, not to enjoy it, but to appreciate it properly.

March Reviews

I know we’re nearly half way through April. I’ve been busy…

Films and TV etc.

The excellent

The Crimson Rivers*****

Really good French cop series that keeps suggesting supernatural explanations but always ends up with human criminals. Interesting cops.

Paddington*****

OK, late to the party – we didn’t think grandson would like it because of the death of the uncle near the beginning, so I never saw it… Lovely!

Shetland*****

Good cop series set on Shetland. I liked the cop team, the landscape and the plot.

Line of Duty Season 4*****

Cop series centred round an anti-corruption team. Gripping! So now we need to binge watch 1 – 3 before embarking on 5.

Early Man*****

I always like the animated clay productions. The humour was great and so were all the references to modern problems in this look at early man.

The good.

A Very British History ****

Excellent series looking at the history of various immigrants to UK (Gipsies/Black Brummies/Leeds Jews/Ugandan Asians).. Whilst it was good that each episode was told by someone who was part of the community, I would have liked something tying the programmes together.

Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil****

The lead-up to the current Brexit problems. Well done but I would have liked more ‘before and after’ context, however brief.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Heroines**** (see separate WordPress post)

Interesting lecture which included a look at the recently refurbished home of Elizabeth Gaskell in Manchester.

The Yorkshire Ripper Files****

The programmes had a focus on the victims and their families. It was interesting to see how and why it took so long to catch Peter Sutcliffe, and to see how police and media attitudes to women have had to change.

The poor.

Be Mine **

Very slight shortish film. It was mm romance so I thought I’d watch to see what the cinema did with it. Not a lot… Also, it was hard to work out what was flashback and which character was which.

And the ones where I gave up.

Baptiste: abandoned

Retired cop starts trying to find a missing woman and ends up involved in international crime. I missed an episode and found I couldn’t be bothered to catch up. I wasn’t keen on either the main character or the plot and found it hard to suspend disbelief.

The Bay: abandoned

I got annoyed with the policewoman from the start, and with her inability to organise her family, let alone her work.

Mums Make Porn: abandoned

In theory they were making a porn film that respected women, but in the process of doing so they interviewed and watched professional porn stars doing just that so I couldn’t see the point.

The Yorkshire Vet: abandoned

I loved this programme for the location (I used to live near there) as well as the animals, but the ops were so gory I gave up.

Shadowlands (not the CS Lewis story): abandoned

It was billed as three short stories about people seeking love. The first was a narcissist and the scenes were thoroughly nasty. I didn’t watch for long.

 

Books

The excellent

Dim Sum Asylum by Rhys Ford*****

I adored this cop story set in a fae San Francisco. I kept thinking I’d read it before but then realised it was an extended version of a story that appeared in the Charmed and Dangerous anthology, which I’d loved when I read it. This book is well worth the re-read at the beginning.

Rising Tide by Susan Roebuck *****

As usual, Susan Roebuck makes us feel as if we have been transported to Portugal. The hero and heroine, both part Portuguese, are brought together in a fishing village at risk from the manipulations of corrupt businessmen.

Set in Stone by Elin Gregory*****

A gripping and delightful short story with a supernatural twist. I shall file it with my Halloween stories and re-read it!

Spies, Planes and Automobiles by Elin Gregory and Charlie Cochrane*****

A nice short mystery where one of the heroes of Eleventh Hour meets the Cambridge Fellows.

State of Hate produced by Hope Not Hate*****

This year’s look at the state of the far right and their activities. Worth reading and worth keeping for reference.

Bitter Legacy and Object of Desire by Dal McClean*****

I couldn’t put these down! Exciting stories featuring a gay cop and two of his cases, set against his search for a lover. Each novel stands alone, but I think the way they’re interlinked adds to the pleasure. Excellent writing.

Rapid Response by DJ Jamison*****

Another book in the Hearts and Health series. This time it’s a firefighter and a paramedic who get together. The main pleasure of the series lies in getting to know the entire community, the hospital, etc. The story explores mild BDSM, being in the closet and being bi/pansexual.

Hidden Treasures and Late Fees by Marshall Thornton ***** (Pinx Video Mysteries 2 & 3)

Noah is a fascinating hero, since he is gay but HIV positive and still angst-ridden about his past. This is unusual since it gives us a story about gay characters without any sex, and as a result gives insight into gay Los Angeles. The city is described in detail and for the first time (and I’ve read quite a lot of books set there) I felt I might be getting to know it. The first of these sequels is concerned with aging cinema stars and their costumes, and the second has Noah’s mother come to stay and inadvertently involve him in a murder mystery.

Invitation to the Dance by Tamara Allen*****

A newspaper reporter and his copy editor are encouraged to go undercover to get information, by their editor. As well as the wanted social gossip they uncover criminal activities. Tamara Allen deftly brings the pre-WWII world of America to life

The good

Justice in the Sarladais by Stephen Reinhardt 1770-1790****

Interesting detailed look at social and criminal issues in the area around Sarlat just before the French Revolution. At times the book read like an expanded Ph.D thesis (which it might well have been) but it was an illuminating look at the social change in a rural area during the years leading to the revolution, and at the beginnings of the modern French judicial system.

Lord of the White Hell vols 1 and 2 by Gill Hale****

Some good world building and I liked the culture clash described as Kiram tries to adapt to Javier’s different country. However, towards the end I got slightly tired of the antics of the demon and was simply glad the heroes got together and seemed set fair for an interesting life together. I gather the next book deals with Elizar, who was not one of my favourite characters so I won’t bother reading it, especially because Hale’s books are very expensive, compared with other Kindle volumes.

The Broken Circle by Enjeela Ahmadi Miller****

An autobiographical account of how the author and her family escaped Afghanistan when the Russians arrived. The details were interesting and I was anxious for the family to survive and come together again. However, I could have done with slightly more context and perhaps more pointers towards the Taliban future. Maybe the author didn’t have these herself.

The Dodo, the Auk and the Oryx by Robert Silverberg ****

A friend recommended this and I was glad I bought it. It is out of print (it was originally published in the ‘70s) and in a sense it needs a new edition with some up to date statistics. It was a great introduction to extinction by both natural causes and human intervention, and would be a good starting point for further research. I bought it with my grandson in mind but although I will lend it to him, I shall keep it for myself. It’s a Puffin book but I think would be too hard for most children, as it assumes quite a lot of knowledge. I imagine the author and the publishers wanted to influence young minds. Silverberg is known to me as a sci-fi writer but I had never read any of his science writing.

The mediocre

Prism Cloud by Jeff Wheeler (book 4 of the Harbinger series) ***

I have got tired of Cettie and Sera and their inability to affect either their own empire or the other kingdom in this steampunk series. Both heroines started out interesting and determined but they now seem to be at the mercy of other people’s activities and agendas. The events that were, I think, meant to be startling were in fact quite predictable and the book was somehow flat. I don’t think I’ll bother buying the sequel.

The poor.

Spoonful of Flavour Leafy Greens e-book **

There were some nice recipes but I felt cheated. The book was meant to be a freebie for signing up to the author’s newsletter. It isn’t really an e-book, because frequently it catapults the reader back into the blog with navigational difficulties and a complete inability to copy/paste good recipes. All it has really done is make me unsubscribe…

Dominus by P Kenwood:  abandoned.

This came highly recommended but I didn’t get far. There was a great deal of ‘bad’ language which might well be realistic but throws me out of a story, there was some odd choice of vocabulary, there were startling point of view switches, and I simply found the general style unreadable.

Buttermilk Ranch by Patricia Logan: abandoned

The writing was very repetitive with occasional lapses into info dump. Again, I didn’t get far.

Fanfiction

(I only review the excellent, which I recommend, and mostly only fics that are accessible to readers who are not in the particular fandom.)

The Man with the Clockwork Heart by danceswithgary***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/16644200 6967 words

The story was written in response to art, in what’s known as a reverse big bang and both pay homage to Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, an anime film, The fandom is SGA but this is so AU only the names really give the origins away. John is the one with physical problems and Rodney is the scientist who can put things right.

From the Pen of Inky Quill by okapi ***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/6848800/chapters/15633211 40,821 words (so far)

This is an excellent series of anthropomorphic crack!fic, poetry and ficlets set loosely in the Sherlock universe. It is added to from time to time and occasionally appears in my inbox to my delight.

 Tits v. Porny by jeeno2 *****  https://archiveofourown.org/works/18115103#main 5289 words plus the lawsuit that inspired it  https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/9757a1_8b7166541a084d5ebe957b896cdc8132.pdf

A fascinating look at copyright, publishing, porn, lawsuits, etc. with a very mild m/f love story holding everything together. It’s worth ploughing through the very real lawsuit as background; it’s relevant to writers everywhere.This story is set in the Starwars fandom but like the SGA one is so AU only the names are the same. As the summary says: Ben Solo and Rey Johnson are attorneys, working together to defend their client against claims of plagiarism and copyright violation brought by a published author of original A/B/O fiction.

A Sheppard’s Christmas Carol by Brumeier***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/17087363  7641 words.

Fresh and interesting retelling of A Christmas Carol with John (SGA) visited by the spirits. The author was very inventive with the spirits she used. Worth keeping and re-reading, probably at Christmas. Perhaps not quite as accessible to people who don’t know SGA but lovers of the Dickens story should find the treatment interesting.

 

 

February Reviews

Films and TV

The excellent (watch if you can and if they’re still available).

They Shall Not Grow Old*****
The special version of WW1 footage, edited and coloured under the direction of Michael Jackson. A fantastic feat, though beginning with a long section of flickering black and white might have been good cinema but nearly made me switch off with a headache.

Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain*****
Fascinating because it basically covered my life. While you’re living through events you’re not always aware of the wider picture.

Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the South*****
I loved hearing the history of some of the American music, but even more, I enjoyed the road trip through the southern states. Whilst I knew perfectly well where they were it’s actually rare, on Brit TV, to see any film of that part of USA and I now feel I have a much more detailed mental map.

Grantchester Season 4*****
This is the first Grantchester season I’ve seen and I loved it. Since I was new to it, the departure of Sid didn’t upset me. I’ve always liked Robson Green and I enjoyed the mix of crime with the accurate and detailed look at the period, which was the time of my childhood, and as I was the daughter of a country vicar this was inevitably going to appeal!

100 Vaginas *****
Amazing, excellent, poignant, and intriguing. I think it’s still on catch up TV in UK (ch4) and if it is, watch it! It unravelled women’s attitudes to what is sometimes seen as a taboo subject with incredible photography and sensitive narration.

Desperate Romantics*****
Fabulous. I knew that with Aidan Turner as Dante Gabriel Rosetti it was likely to be good, but Millais, Hunt and Lizzie Siddall were good too. So was Tom Hollander as Ruskin. I bought it ages ago and forgot about it. Six hours of fantastic acting in a mesmerising story about some of our most famous artists. Plus, I’ve seen some of the originals of the paintings that were the focus of the story and have been to a number of pre-Raphaelite exhibitions. I wallowed in this and will be watching it again.

The good.

British History’s Biggest Fibs****
Lucy Worsley makes history interesting, as usual, but I think this started with an odd premise. Most people who studied any history beyond the age of about 14 (or just did a lot of reading) wouldn’t believe these fibs anyway, and the rest of the general population wouldn’t remember them. That’s as far as the Wars of the Roses, and the Glorious Revolution are concerned, at any rate. But maybe Victoria and the empire are a little more recent and people do look back to what they think was a golden age. And maybe this was an attempt to alter the public perception of the empire carefully slotted into a more general history lesson.

Dogs behaving (very) badly****
Really, it was the owners, in every case, who were behaving, if not badly, at least foolishly. The trainer gently but firmly put them on the right track.

Death in Paradise Season 8****
‘Cosy’ mysteries with a beautiful tropical background and an interesting ensemble cast. I felt nostalgia for my trips to the Caribbean, and I enjoyed the banter. There were plotholes galore but I would watch again for the humour and the scenery. I kept thinking about the ‘backstory’ in Lewis that had Lewis in the BVI after his wife’s death, and wondered why we never got a series about that period – maybe this was it?

The real Saudi Arabia: why I had to leave****
The young fashion designer who went to visit relatives in Saudi to see whether she could live there might have known it would end in tears, but she really did try hard. I was surprised by the ending.

The vaguely watchable.

Moulin Rouge***
Nowhere near as good as I was led to expect. When we went to Paris we stayed near the Moulin Rouge and the film didn’t give a real picture of the area. In fact, I found it unlikely and faintly annoying.

And the unwatchable.

Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities – abandoned
I couldn’t stand the way this was presented. Not sure if it was the narrator’s voice but I found myself falling asleep despite the inherent interest of what was being shown.

Gavin and Stacey – abandoned.
It was supposed to be a romantic comedy but I didn’t think it was either… Not sure why I bought it in a charity shop but it’s going back there.

Master and Commander – abandoned
I was looking forward to this but… Too much sea and too much gore. Since I’d read some of the books I already knew the characters and there wasn’t going to be any element of mystery or development so I gave up.

Books

The really really good (highly recommended):

Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee*****
Both the second and final volumes of The Machineries of Empire were wonderful sci fi, with plenty of aliens, space battles, futuristic science, sex, and explorations of ‘big’ themes like gender identity, loyalty and democracy. I was dying to know what happened but didn’t want them to end. I was initially disappointed in the ending but then realised I just hadn’t wanted the story to end at all. It was perfectly satisfactory except that I wanted more! Highly recommended series for anyone who likes sci fic. And a huge thank you to the person on my DW f’list who recced it!

Snow and Secrets by RJ Scott (Stanford Creek series 3)*****
This was almost stand-alone but is actually part of a series. Nice characterisation and an interesting plot. The series as a whole deals with m/f relationships but this volume is m/m. I much prefer Scott’s writing when she is developing the story of a whole group or community. She is very good at locating the reader in a ‘place’ with ‘real’ people, and I would rather follow her series than read her shorter standalones.

Cops and Comix by Rhys Ford (Murder and Mayhem)*****
I love this series, with the dysfunctional but rich family, the cops trying hard to keep up, the background of valuable artefacts in the film and comic industries, and the mayhem that seems to follow everyone who gets anywhere near. Another writer who pulls the reader into a fully realised location and group of people.

My Anti-Valentine by DJ Jamison *****
Three stories here, all on an ‘anti-valentine’ theme and all well written and satisfyingly romantic in the end.

The Station by Keira Andrews*****
A fascinating story based in the convict days of Australia. The research was detailed and the reader learns a lot about the deportation process and about the outback in those early times.

Apple Boy by Isobel Starling*****
A gorgeous introduction to what promises to be a fascinating series. As I pre-ordered it, I was sent a beautiful map too. The world building is excellent, slow and detailed with no sense of any ‘info-dump’. The magic is unusual and interesting. I gather we will meet new characters in the sequels but already the minor characters are almost as well developed as the main protagonists and we can trust the author to introduce worthwhile personalities to inhabit her world.

Concierge Service by P.D.Singer*****
I loved the angst in this romance, with the main character desperate not to compromise his position as a brilliant metropolitan concierge at a top hotel despite falling for a guest. I liked the way the relationship developed and the fact that there was very little sex until the end. The UST was much more exciting than the more explicit accounts in so many books.

Two for the Road by Alexa Milne *****
A May/December story about a man who falls in love with his friend’s son, a young man who has in turn loved him since they first met. Most of the relationship is developed during the lifts to and from work which underpin both the plot and the title. I also enjoy reading stories set in my own part of the world (northern UK) especially when the author obviously knows the area well and loves it. I read this while I was doing the final edits on a May/December story of my own, so it was even more appealing.

The Holly Groweth Green by Amy Rae Durreson*****
This is a Christmas fairy tale (which is a kind of contradiction in terms). It takes place after WWII when a naval doctor, damaged by the war to the extent that he can no longer practise, is stranded in a snowstorm and meets someone living in a house in the countryside – a house that later turns out to be an uninhabited ruin. But this is not a ghost story, and although it takes place over the twelve days of Christmas, that’s because those are the days the fairies have chosen when they laid a curse on Avery. A fabulous story (in both senses) and one which I must read every Christmas. This year it didn’t reach my notice till February but now that I have it, I shall treasure it!

The good. Good enough to recommend but I probably wouldn’t re-read them (usually because they’re very short). All these are well written and are excellent examples of the art of the short story.

The Fall Guy by Chris Quinton****
A Pinkerton agent ends up following suspects across the Atlantic to London. I actually hope this might turn into a series.

Bad Valentine ****
Four novella by four authors, all well written and worth reading.
Love Magic by Jesi Lea Ryan ****
Oliver thinks Derrick is ‘just’ a conjuror but it turns out Derrick has real magic.
Quill Me Now by Jordan Castillo Price****
Dixon thinks he is a failed spellcrafter but when he meets Yuri he learns the truth about himself and his family.
Hidden Hearts by Clare London****
Ethan and Kel survive clumsiness and disasters to make something of a valentine date.
Temporary Dad by Dev Bentham****
Nick and Dylan work through minor deception and fantasy to a good relationship in the end.

His Spark by DJ Jamison ****
A very short story in which Josh and Dylan act the parts of Harry and Draco from Harry Potter but find their own personalities are better in the end. Nicely written but this is another author whose series appeal to me more than her shorts.

Valentine’s Day with Princess Petunia by K-Lee Klein****
How easy or difficult can it be to find romance when you’re a single dad? Bobby finds out when he meets Greg.

Drawing Love by Tully Vincent****
A short story with a focus on a drawing one of the main characters did in primary school. The love he was trying to convey then has lasted.

Blitz by Charlie Cochrane****
Two guys who fancy each other but have never acted on their feelings are thrown together sheltering from the blitz.

The readable (just)

Forgive me Father by PL Travis***
Jamie underwent an appalling childhood which is reconstructed in almost loving detail. The second half of the book deals with his experiences in adulthood when he has overcome his past, but it is told in a blur of events and people, with a lot of death and angst all round. Jamie has a good life in the end, but I wouldn’t read this again.

The Ultimate Greetings Card Book by Caroline Green (re-read) ***
Some of the techniques are good but most of them are already well known to me. A reasonable reference book but no really new ideas or anything I’d forgotten about.

The dire

Three Sisters (Emily Castle Mysteries 1) by Helen Smith *
I was mesmerised by just how awful the characters were, how unlikely the plot, and how garbled the explanations. I did finish it but only just. The style was irritating, too, with attempts at purple prose and experimental prose too.

Hunter’s Chase (The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries 1) by Val Penny – abandoned
I think this was making an attempt to be the next Inspector Rebus series. It failed.

Fanfic

I eventually finished the Lewis Christmas Challenge stories, the SGA Secret Santa ones, and the Bandom Big Bang. Lewis and SGA demanded in-depth knowledge of canon, but two of the Bandom stories would, I think, work well for the new reader. Both are m/m stories that use real people, or at least their media personas, to explore sci fi/supernatural themes. I really enjoy AU stories in Bandom, because nobody can complain that the stars are being unfairly treated – after all, everybody knows they don’t live in a world with space travel, vampires, werewolves, magic, etc.

ataraxia by akamine_chan https://archiveofourown.org/works/17224229 (3707 words) studies possible attitudes to androids, with obvious reference to canon stories and films in the genre. Frank meets Gerard on Venus and is excited to be working with him.

Ethici Strix by ermengarde https://archiveofourown.org/works/17212841 (2458 words) Gerard is job-hunting when he accidentally meets Frank, who is cool, but weird. An eventual vampire theme.

International Women’s Day

(First, a confession. The photo is taken from Tripadvisor. Yesterday was incredibly wet and I couldn’t take a decent photograph.)

My daughter and I and a couple of friends went to a talk on Elizabeth Gaskell’s Heroines at Elizabeth Gaskell House in Manchester on Thursday. The talk, given in honour of International Women’s Day, was given by Dr Diane Duffy and was well worth attending.

Dr. Duffy clearly knew a great deal about the Victorian novelist and her life and works, but also gave us plenty of food for thought. I had read a couple of Gaskell’s works and had watched the BBC costume dramas but too long ago to recall the details or the names of all the characters but our speaker soon made sure we all knew the outline of the stories.

She started by unpacking the word ‘heroine’, pointing out the recent de-gendering of the term so that we now have female heroes, and gave a slide presentation showing aspects of the way heroines had been depicted in Britain in the past in both text and art. Some of her listeners felt she paid too little attention to attitudes in other countries, and other literatures, but so far as Britain was concerned I think her points were valid, even if somewhat ‘parochial’.

We were asked to consider the attributes we expected to be assigned to male or female heroes, and to look at the true nature of heroism. This was interesting and thought-provoking, especially given the preponderance of ‘hero’ movies today. Even in an atmosphere of ‘liberation’ for women we are capable of automatic stereotyping and a failure to notice or admire characters who do not conform to those stereotypes.

It was clear that Gaskell tried to push the boundaries of what was acceptable to Victorian readers, just as other novelists did, particularly Charlotte Bronte, who was a friend of Gaskell’s. Some of the characterisation they developed might seem very slight to us but was really subversive in Victorian times. Women, then, were advised that if they were intelligent or well-informed, they should hide the fact, and in most publications it was thought obvious that a blonde beauty would not only be the main character but would also be ‘innocent’ and would ‘get her man’ whereas anyone with dark hair would inevitably turn out to be a villain. So a dark-haired heroine was a really new departure for the audience of the time. Some listeners made the point that Disney was in fact one of the first to go against the trend, and although their depiction of Snow White with dark hair was in keeping with Grimm’s text, it was also in direct opposition to the prevailing norms.

Gaskell had publishers to contend with, too; you can’t get a message across if you can’t get your book printed and sold. She was perhaps more subtle in her attempts to subvert the ‘normal’ way of thinking, and did not meet the same kinds of publisher outrage and panic experienced by Charlotte, or by Wilkie Collins. I know today’s publishers are driven by the profit motive just as much as their forebears were, and I wonder how far the current development of self-publishing and small indie publishers/co-operatives will allow more widespread questioning of the social order.

The talk was certainly relevant to anyone who writes female heroes and perhaps to all writers, given the way that prejudices and stereotypes were questioned.

The Elizabeth Gaskell House is a beautifully presented small museum just outside central Manchester. The building has been renovated by Manchester University and lovingly restored to its nineteenth century incarnation as a Unitarian minister’s house – and that of his wife who gave us some enjoyable and provocative novels. I would recommend a visit if you’re in the area!

January reviews

Films and TV

Somehow or another I seem to have gone square-eyed this month. We treated ourselves to a Firestick to try to reorganise our TV access and I re-subscribed to Radio Times after a couple of years’ hiatus. Result: more TV and more films via TV or Prime or Netflix. I might have got a bit carried away. Most of what I watched was excellent.

The really really good. Watch them if you can.

Fantastic Beasts***** Magic and mayhem in the world of Harry Potter but earlier.
I, Daniel Blake***** Chilling indictment of government policy on benefits. Rewatch (husband hadn’t seen it.) For Brits, still on iPlayer till Monday night.
Brexit: An Uncivil War***** Benedict Cumberbatch clarifying the referendum.
A Very English Scandal***** Jeremy Thorpe’s attempt to murder Norman Scott. We were Liberal Party activists at the time…
The Huntsman: Winter War***** Chris Hemsworth in the sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman
Tangled***** Disney version of Rapunzel
The Great Fire of London***** Three hours of TV – I wouldn’t have watched (fire ‘triggers’ me) but it was on in the lounge.
Bodyguard***** Six gripping episodes of a very Brit thriller which we caught on iPlayer later than most people!
Treasures of the Indus***** Art, architecture and religion from Pakistan to southern India. Mesmerising and informative.

The good. Watch them if they’re brought to your attention.

American History’s Biggest Fibs**** Lucy Worsley. I didn’t learn much but the presentation was good and so were some of the interviews with academics.
Monkey Kingdom**** Disney natural world film. It’s better with the commentary switched off – just saying…
The Jungle Book **** Golden oldie! Rewatch.
Dr Who: The New Year special.**** I like the new female doctor.
The Yorkshire Vet**** The season finale celebrated the life and work, both medical and literary, of Alf Wight, or ‘James Herriot’.
True Lies****Arnie Schwarzenegger stars with Jamie Lee Curtis in a romantic spy romp. Silly but good. Rewatch
Manhunt****Martin Clunes stars in the docu-drama about the way the Met finally linked the murder of Millie Dowler wwith that of Amelie Delagrange. Fascinating look at the minutiae of police work.
DCI Banks pilot**** Not sure how I missed this when I originally watched the series.
The Prosecutors: The Babes in the Woods Murders****Explored the way the law changed, forensics progressed, and a killer was finally brought to justice, with emphasis on the way the families reacted all along and were kept in the picture.

The mediocre

Starship Troopers *** Based on Heinlein’s novel. Excellent CGI makes it worth watching but I disliked the book and then the film. Rewatch because it was on in the lounge.

The dreadful

The Wolf of Wall Street* DiCaprio stars in this semi-factual drama about the rise and fall of a US stockbroker. The acting and direction were good and I’m sure the depiction of the characters as incredibly foul-mouthed was accurate but I hated the amount of swearing, which got boring, and there were no characters to empathise with. Like the Great Fire film, this was on in the lounge and I wasn’t going to be driven out…

I’ve started following three series:
The Crimson Rivers***** French cop drama – good so far and I’m tending towards looking for fanfic
Grantchester***** I had never watched but I’m impressed! Takes place in the era that encompasses my ‘formative’ years and deals well with social problems of the time.
Death in Paradise**** Cosy mysteries with humour set on a Caribbean island. Again, I had never seen them and now that I know the cast I won’t necessarily watch every week but might turn to it for ‘comfort’ viewing.

Books

The excellent

In case of emergency by Keira Andrews***** Step brothers for a few months, years ago – but Cole puts Daniel down as his emergency contact and then has an accident which leads to them spending Christmas together. A delightful Christmas story which I will almost certainly revisit next year.
Lessons in Cracking the Deadly Code and Lessons in Chasing the Wild Goose by Charlie Cochrane.***** Two novellas in the Cambridge Fellows series. I usually prefer full length novels for detective stories but despite being short, these are beautifully crafted mysteries with plenty of college and period detail and well developed secondary characters.
Machineries of Empire. Book 1: Nine Fox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee***** Really worthwhile sci-fi, complex and beautifully written. Excellent world building and fascinating characters. Explores big questions about cultural conditioning, gender identity, war, obedience, genocide… all in a grippingly alien far future. Star Trek on steroids. I have almost finished book 2 and have bought book 3.
Good Omens by Gaiman and Pratchett***** A re-read. One of my husband’s friends sent it to me saying he thought I might like it. I have no idea what it says about him or me that he thought I might not have read it already… It’s as good as ever though I think after the first reading there’s a sense in which the novelty is gone. However, you can concentrate on the details instead of the story. Apparently there’s to be a TV series.

The good

Rustic Melody, Rustic Memory and Rustic Moment by Nic Starr.**** A nice trilogy of m/m romances set in Australia. The locations were refreshing, the main characters were endearing and well developed, the secondary characters were good, the plots were gripping and the writing was excellent. So why only four stars and not five? Well, we were ‘treated’ to sudden incursions of extremely long accounts of very explicit sex that did not further the plot or character development. I found that tiresome. A few paragraphs would have sufficed.
Silly Signs with no apparent author but published by Aura **** My husband picked this up in a supermarket. Some of the signs were truly hilarious. There was the usual crop of poor translations but some of the funniest were not translation.

The mediocre

Ultimate Christmas by Jane Newdick*** Swathes of beautiful decorating ideas that nobody would ever have time to copy, but I might re-read it next year for the recipes in the final section and there are some fresh ideas for handmade cards.
(The Ultimate Book of) Doing up old junk by Whitecap Books*** I can’t think this is the actual name of an author and assume that like the Silly Signs book, the publisher is taking full responsibility. I was fascinated by some of the advice and techniques but couldn’t really think why anyone would strip down furniture and then paint it and add patterns and flowers etc. Even given chips and dents, most pieces benefit from less interference, not more. I can sort of see why you might paint over burn marks, but unless the piece is a family heirloom, the amount of time and effort expended seems out of proportion to the results. Interesting food for thought, though perhaps not quite in the sense intended by the creators.

I read the rest of the Rainbow Advent Calendar and other freebies offered on FB etc. I enjoyed them but there’s nothing to highlight. In fact, I think next Christmas I’ll just revisit my favourite seasonal stories. I also continued to read through my Georgette Heyer collection which provides me with a great deal of pleasure.

Fanfiction

Nothing to report. I’ve been catching up with the rest of the Bandom Big Bang, the Stargate Atlantis Secret Santa, the Lewis Christmas Challenge and some previously missed Professionals ficlets. All satisfying reads but all needing not only knowledge of canon (source material) but also fanon (concepts introduced by fans and now accepted as a kind of canon).

December Reviews

Happy New Year to everybody! As usual, I fully intend to post more this year but it is already 8th January. Last year I made a resolution about it and then failed spectacularly so this year I won’t even promise, just cross my fingers! Anyway, here are my December reviews.

TV, films and theatre

I have to say that a mid-December trinity of a re-subscription to Radio Times (after a few years’ absence), a Firestick for our TV and an exploration of my Amazon Prime video possibilities changed my viewing habits – probably permanently.

King Tut’s Treasure Secrets. (UK Channel 5)***** Perhaps all the more interesting because I saw the King Tut treasures in the Cairo Museum.

Secret Life of the Zoo***** I’ve loved this, as usual, and am looking forward to the next season.

The Wave (2016) with Kristoffer Joner***** Excellent disaster movie set in Norway where an avalanche sets of a wave that inundates a village. Based on a true danger.

Dr Who**** The Season ended and was good, but perhaps a bit too ‘worthy’ in its focus on current topics and having a diverse cast. I like the new doctor but I did feel a bit preached-at.

Sherlock Holmes (RDJ) **** re-watch. Mad and fun! I did find that the sound was erratic on TV – I have got used to my laptop and headphones.

Escape from Dubai. *** Interesting (in-laws were just back from Dubai…) but it skated over a lot of the issues it raised.

Books

The excellent:

Lessons in Loving Thy Murderous Neighbour by Charlie Cochrane***** Excellent as usual. The neighbour in question is the college next door which features in a lot of the books. I am still missing the senior Stewarts but Jonty and Orlando continue to ‘hook’ me.

This is going to hurt by Adam Kay ***** (Subtitle: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor) Hilarious and frightening account of the author’s experiences. Makes you hope you never need a hospital. I definitely wouldn’t give this book to anyone pregnant – obstetrics were Kay’s specialty.

Magnificent Devices by Shelley Adina *****. This was a boxed set of three novels which I absolutely loved – steampunk adventure with feisty heroines. I certainly intend to buy the next books.

Joseph Barnaby by Susan Roebuck
***** Joe takes refuge in Madeira after problems in UK. He meets Sofia, niece of his employer and together they fight and overcome their difficulties. A gripping novel of action and romance with an unusual location and very believable characters.

Iron Garland by Jeff Wheeler **** The third gripping instalment of the Harbinger fantasy series.

Brit (ish) by Afua Hirsch**** (Subtitle: On Race, Identity and Belonging). I’m not sure I was as impressed by this as by the Why I’m not talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. It was recommended to me by someone who read my review of that. Whilst this book raises, and in some cases explores and explains some interesting issues, it is largely based on the author’s own experiences as the child of a very middle-class ‘mixed’ marriage, and does not necessarily reflect the problems of ethnic minorities in UK. As an essay in coming to terms with her own identity it is extremely well done.

Mr Winterbourne’s Christmas by Joanna Chambers**** Adam and Lysander are the lovers in a delightful mm Regency romance. Only four stars because it was quite short and I desperately wanted more.

Rainbow Advent Calendar**** Four stars for a mixed bag of short stories. These were LGBT Christmas freebies with a new story each day. I didn’t actually read them all – I mostly ignored the ones that were part of a series I wasn’t familiar with and the vampire ones which didn’t appeal as Christmas fare. I also got slightly confused because I downloaded some other Christmas freebies from writers on Facebook or whose newsletters I follow. Anyway, most of the stories were lovely but too short to review individually. I have to say that by the end of the month I was suffering from a surfeit of sugariness but that’s because I read the stories as they came out rather than saving them for occasional enjoyment. My reason for doing that was that most of them had a Christmas theme! I have kept a few in my Calibre library for re-reading next December:
Cruising by Charlie Cochrane***** (inspired by her own 2018 arctic cruise)
Baubles by Jackie Keswick***** (a short and delicate budding ff romance)
Remembering You by Crystal Lacy**** (a Christmas homecoming leads to meeting a highschool crush again)
The Christmas Knife by Jackie North**** (a heartwarming story when the theft of a present leads to romance in the face of a blizzard)
The Elves of Christmas by Wendy Rathbone ****(an unusual ‘take’ on Santa’s elves)
A Frosty Tail by Dawn Sister**** (meeting Jack Frost with a huge dose of myths and legends with a twist)

The readable:

From Out in the Cold by L A Witt *** Neil and Jeremy both have PTSD (for entirely different reasons) and unsupportive families. But as usual, this author sets up the situation then has no real plot though again as usual there’s a hopeful ending and the writing technique is good enough to keep me reading.

The River Leith by Leta Blake *** This is a typical amnesia story about an amateur boxer who can’t recall his lover. It’s quite well written and researched but boring. Not enough happens and I have read better stories with this trope.

Adore by E Davies ** Caspian and Matt and their romance. I suppose it was all right. I didn’t abandon it.

Taboo for You by Anyta Sunday. Abandoned. I simply didn’t get on with the style.

The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous by Jilly Cooper
. Abandoned. I was surprised that I found both the style and the main characters unappealing as I usually enjoy this author.

Nova Praetorian by NR Walker. Abandoned. I couldn’t summon up any interest in the characters who seemed wholly unrealistic.

That makes 168 books read and reviewed this year. I discounted the ones I’d abandoned but added in the re-reads of Heyer etc. that I have only referred to briefly. I didn’t include fanfiction and of course some of those are novel length. So I seem to read about three or four books a week. Some are just novellas but on the other hand, some are seriously long!

Fanfiction

The books above kept me busy so I didn’t read many fanfic offerings this month but a friend recommended

A Kept Boy by poisontaster***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/253311 A fabulous exploration of slavery and power dynamics in an alternate universe that mirrors modern USA, using a number of American actors in the main roles. I couldn’t stop reading and will definitely be reading the sequels.

November Reviews

TV, films and theatre

The Secret Life of the Zoo (weekly; ongoing) *****
The animals at Chester Zoo continue to be both fascinating and eye candy.

Beck. Season 1 ****
Swedish crime drama but Beck does very little except preside over a somewhat dysfunctional team. Good police procedural, worth looking out for next season.

Sleeping Beauty **** Pantomime at our local theatre. Stunning sets, costumes, choreography and special effects. Pity about the music which was loud and sometimes drowned both dialogue and lyrics (and led to the loss of a star from me). Typical panto, well done and enjoyable, not least for the reactions of the kids in the audience.

Dr Who (weekly; ongoing) ***
The female doctor with the ensemble team cast of companions continues to try hard to improve our minds.

Harry Brown **
A pensioner (Michael Caine) turns to vengeance when a friend is killed. Gritty and gruesome.

Kill Bill*
Confusing and unpleasant. Maybe I wasn’t concentrating?

American Gangster*
Similarly confusing and unpleasant despite the presence of Will Smith.

Solaris. Abandoned.
Sci fi – very slow and the director seemed more interested in photography than plot. Based on a Russian novel that had good reviews. George Cluny starred.

Books

The good:

The Traitor Lords Saga by Adella J. Harris *****
A Regency trilogy. I should really mark this down to four star because of Americanisms and coincidences, but I couldn’t put it down. There are three books in a boxed set: Lord Lynster Discovers; Lord Heathborough Invests; Lord Edwin Falls. Each concerns the inevitable problems (and the eventual mm romance) of the sons of a group of noblemen convicted of a treasonous plot. The characters and their various entanglements are wholly delicious. Highly recommended.

Night Drop (Pinx Video Mysteries 1) by Marshall Thornton *****
The amateur detective is a fascinating character and the crime, and solution, are interesting. Whilst this is an LGBT novel, there is no romance in this first volume. Recommended.

Murder of a Straw Man and Murder of a Working Ghost by Robyn Beecroft *****
This new Dancing Detectives series is set in the fens near Cambridge and Ely with interesting and believable amateur detectives who manage to reach, however ineptly, conclusions to convoluted cases. Rory is a ‘vlogger’ with family problems and his lodger, Hayley, is both ACE and ethnic minority. Rory is gay and not exactly closeted but his budding romance is very slow moving. A series well worth looking out for, not least for its portrayal of small town English life and the delightful helpings of information about Morris dancing. Recommended.

Band Sinister by KJ Charles *****
Guy is in some senses a country ‘innocent’, thrown into the path of his neighbour, Philip, a nobleman with a wicked reputation which of course is not deserved. A delightful Regency romp. Highly recommended. I also read The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh**** by the same author. This is a short story about Gabriel and Francis from the Society of Gentlemen series. It’s well written but very brief and probably wouldn’t stand alone so not recommended unless you’re already following the series.

Love Can’t Conquer by Kim Fielding****
Jeremy’s teen crush died – or did he? The story is intriguing and the novel is well written. Recommended.

The Greenwood and the Grail by Harper Fox****
Book 3 of the Arthur series. This one was quite mystical, with Lance retreating to a magical forest, cared for by Parzifal. Arthur fortuitously finds them when he enters the forest after a battle. I didn’t personally enjoy this as much as the first two volumes (too little action and too much introspection) but it extends the story, which twists and tweaks the legends of Arthur and Lancelot beautifully, and I would recommend the whole series. I gather it’s one of those trilogies that is going to have a fourth part…

Criminal Intentions. Season 1 Episode 1 ‘The Cardigans’ by Cole McCade/K****
Malcolm and Seong Jae are partnered as detectives and find each other quite difficult at first. But their case work is interesting and their relationship, off to a rocky start, gets quite intense. This is an example of how a crime drama can be meshed with an mm romance and work to enhance both angles. Recommended.

Civilisation (New Scientist: The Collection)****
This is a worthwhile collection of articles though there are a couple that seemed to me to be less than stellar. It covers all the latest research in palaeontology and archaeology as well as more speculative and/or statistical fields looking at religion, migration, politics, and other social issues. It’s well presented and illustrated. I enjoyed being able to read through a number of articles that really interested me all in one volume and might look out for others in the Collections series. Recommended.

Operation Makeover by DJ Jamison (Hearts and Health 7)****
Ridley, who works in the same hospital as other characters in the series, has had a hopeless crush on a friend since high school. He asks Cole, a stylist, to help him change his looks and clothes in an attempt to be noticed, but in the process, falls for Cole. Well-developed characters and nicely written. Recommended.

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch ****
Book 6 in the Rivers of London series with PC Peter Grant. I was slightly disappointed. I understand that there are some short graphic novels between the main volumes, and I suspect I have been missing some events in Peter’s life since I don’t enjoy (and therefore don’t read) graphic novels. Despite the presence of new and interesting magic users, the book concentrates more on police procedure and less on magic than usual. It’s the magic that ‘makes’ the series, so for me, this was a serious drawback and I don’t think I will be in a hurry to buy the next volume. I waited long enough for this one, because initially the e-book was £9.99 which I thought was outrageously expensive (more like the price of a hardback) but I bought it when it was eventually offered at 99p! Not really recommended though I loved the series prior to this volume.

The merely readable:

Conduct Unbecoming by L A Witt ***
Eric and Shane are in the US military and their problem is not the fact that they are gay but that their disparate ranks make even socialisation unacceptable. There is no real plot once the situation has been outlined, though there is a hopeful ending. The main focus of the book seems to be a tour guide to Okinawa which sounds interesting but was not quite what I wanted.

And the dire…

This is a long list with six abandoned books and as you can imagine, I got increasingly irritated this month! I hope I’ll save other people from the pain.

My First Murder by Leena Lehtolainen. Abandoned.
A Finnish police procedural. Extremely boring. I didn’t care who committed the crime or want to know any more about the detective.

The Portal Prophecies by C A King. Abandoned.
To be fair, this fantasy series might have teenage readers as its target audience. I found the style irritating and when I realised it was to be more than one volume I gave up. There are teenagers in a world a little like ours but with massive doses of misogyny, warrior dragons in another world, and other aliens on a different plane altogether who talk in capital letters. I assume they eventually all get together but I didn’t read that far.

The Fraternity of the Estranged: The Fight for Homosexual Rights in England 1891–1908 by Brian Anderson. Abandoned.
The focus of the book is the struggle of three academics, Carpenter, Havelock Ellis and Symonds. I was expecting more about the Wilde trial, given the dates. I strongly suspect the origin of the book was the author’s Ph.D. thesis – it is quite scholarly though fairly ‘dry’ and concentrates on a small area of the field. The trouble for the ordinary reader is that it reads as though written by a grasshopper, with frequent leaps to and fro in time and from one character to another. I got confused, bored, and annoyed, so I skimmed the chapter titles which gave a clue to the contents, and gave up.

A Detached Raider by Ana Night. Abandoned.
Confusing. Also, unlike Criminal Intentions (see the four star reviews) this is an example of how a crime drama can be meshed badly with an mm romance and not work at all. The characters were insufficiently differentiated, which was the confusing bit, and their thoughts about each other kept intruding into the police procedural sections which was both annoying and slightly unrealistic.

Silent Hall by NS Dolkart. Abandoned.
A fantasy book that was strange in that any initial world building was absent and the teenage characters spoke and behaved like modern American teens despite living in a faux mediaeval world with some strange place names thrown in. I didn’t like the writing style but might have continued if the story had hooked me. Apparently it deals with a post-plague scenario and the quest for a new home.

The Witches of Cambridge by Menna van Praag. Abandoned
This came highly recommended. I got quarter of the way through, and there was still no evidence of any plot. There were numerous characters, quite well-developed via flashbacks (which I regard as an irritating technique most of the time), the main narrative was in present tense, and one of the witches sparkled.

Fanfiction

I have nothing to recommend this month. I finished reading the Lewis FrightFest offerings, and read most of the Professionals Big Bang stories. They were (in both fandoms) a mixed bag, some very well written, some case fics, some ‘gen’ fics, and some romances, but all needed a knowledge and love of the fandoms to make sense. I didn’t have time to look at any other recommendations from any of my friends because the two lists mentioned here were quite long.

An in-depth review.

WHY I’M NO LONGER TALKIKNG TO WHITE PEOPLE ABOUT RACE by Reni Eddo-Lodge

I’ve used the cover of the book as my heading picture, and it might not be obvious from a 2D picture that the words ‘to white people’ are in white and that central section of the title is not blank. The actual cover has the words reverse-embossed so that they’re ‘hollow’ and therefore more obvious. I think it’s a clever cover design, provided you have a printed copy.

My husband bought the book and hadn’t time to start it so handed it to me to read first. I thought it deserved a longer review than my usual few lines.

In the first section, on history, I didn’t learn anything. I already knew the broad sweep of what the author was describing and explaining, though of course I didn’t always know individual stories.

Then I realised that she was saying she didn’t know all this when she started researching as a young academic and journalist. That made me sad, because it seemed to negate all the work I and a lot of other people had put into anti-racist education. Reading further, it dawned on me that her lack of knowledge at that age stemmed from the way the national curriculum in UK changed the way anti-racism was tackled in schools. That started just as I left my job in the anti-racist education movement, and it is, I think, responsible for that negation of our work. I am not sure whether this was by negligence or design. As I read more of the book, I began to suspect design, at least on the part of a few highly-placed individuals who wanted to stem all efforts to fight for equality and who had influence on the way the new curriculum was being developed. Conspiracy theory? Perhaps, but most of the evidence points that way.

When I talk about myself and others I should explain that I was a member of a team of anti-racist activists, employed by a local authority. I was responsible for teaching and lecturing, both in schools and in higher education, and was involved in producing anti-racist teaching materials and then both trialling them and encouraging their wide dispersal. We worked together as a small team under a superb leader (Burjor Avari) who got an MBE awarded for his work in the field. We were in touch with other similar teams, and also worked closely with people who ran conferences and national seminars, funded both by government and by charities. I should probably also explain or admit that I am white, British, middle-class and highly over-educated.

So I read on, with an increasing sense of anger directed at those in power who had effectively wasted all the effort we had made, whatever their motives.

The rest of the book was also full of information that would probably be new for many readers, but mostly not for me. I have a postgraduate qualification in anti-racist education and also used it as my main theme when I did a counselling certificate. However, there were a number of things that were both interesting and new. Anything that had happened after I took early retirement in 1997 had probably crossed my radar in my reading of the news but had not been something I had studied in any depth.

I was impressed by the way the author took an approach that combined meticulous academic research with a style that made the book accessible to readers who were either not academics or not familiar with the jargon which so frequently creates problems for people who are not actually involved in that particular area of academia. I know that jargon is essential in some respects and that most academic books grow out of research and are bound to be presented in that way, but this important subject certainly deserves wider reading.

The book deals first with the history of black people in Britain, then goes on to explore the institutional racism of the British system of justice, employment, social services, etc. It next talks about white privilege and what it means, following this with an explanation of the ‘fear of a black planet’ which permeates the ideas of the far right and is increasingly being ‘sold’ to the general population via some parts of the media.

Having shown how the system perpetuates those privileges and fears, the writer goes on to investigate the intersectionality of race, class and gender. Again, none of this was new to me but it was extremely well presented and when I was teaching and lecturing I would really have liked this book to refer to as a text for my adult students.

Reni Eddo-Lodge goes on to discuss how people can fight the system, and I was relieved to realise that I had in fact done everything she suggested. I often felt overwhelmed by the task (something she predicted) and as I explained above, saddened by a kind of failure, but at least I tried. So did my colleagues.

The book grew out of a blog post that talked about the author’s exasperation with the white people she spoke to, and how she had decided not to engage in further discussion, but to sit back and recharge her batteries. I could empathise with this but am pleased at the same time that she was persuaded to expand her thoughts into this book.

The book gained fame (and awards) and initiated widespread discussion. And then, just after it was published, two things happened to make the final chapter a necessary new addition.

‘Aftermath’ (not in the first edition) deals with the Brexit vote in UK and the election of Trump in US and the subsequent normalisation of racist rhetoric and actions. Reni still claims to be optimistic because at least the discussion of the issues has reached the mainstream, and many of our politicians are aware of the need for reform.

I hope she is right. I hope a lot of people read her book. I’m glad I did.