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.

October reviews

TV and films

The Secret Life of the Zoo***** Chester Zoo has started a new series and I have seen the first episode. I will be following the series. The first one was rather bittersweet because it came immediately after the news that two of the baby elephants who feature in the series have recently died from elephant herpes. Whilst I know some viewers see this series as a kind of eye candy, I enjoy learning more about animal behaviour, both specific and general, and seeing the interactions between the keepers and their charges.

Les Miserables** The novel was one of the first long ‘classics’ I read, when I was about 11. My classmates were in awe – I suspect they thought I was reading it in the original French but of course I wasn’t. They didn’t know I was skimming all the philosophy sections that bridge the actual story chapters so the book wasn’t as long as it looked. I also watched one of the TV films. I wasn’t excited about the musical because of knowing the story so well but wanted to see what they’d added. So far as I could see, nothing. The sets were very ‘staged’ and depicted a strange theatrical Paris. Crowe and Jackman can both act but neither can sing. I didn’t like any of the music. Oh well…

If this is wrong produced by Franzesca Dickson** This is a film about fandom, the result of a Kickstarter funding that I contributed to. But the film fell short of the task I thought it had set itself. The focus was fandom among young women, not women (or people) in general, and as such, it didn’t really hold my interest.

Dr Who** I’ve now watched four episodes of the new series. I like Jodie Whittaker and the fresh look a woman doctor brings to the series. But I’m not impressed with the companions. They are not stellar actors and seem to have been choreographed to stand in line rather like a chorus in a musical. The characters and their relationships are impeccably politically correct, and the plots, so far, are worthy but didactic. I think the new producers and writers need to work harder.

Transformers** I think this was the first in the series. Anyway, it appeared on TV and I half watched it. I wasn’t thrilled but the concept is intriguing and I’m sure it’s nice for kids.

Books

The good:

Snow in Montana and Second Chance Ranch by RJ Scott. ***** These are the last of the Crooked Tree Ranch series and bring the various stories to a satisfying conclusion. I still think the number of gay characters in a small community is unlikely, but the writing is good, the plots are exciting, and the whole ‘cast’ is interesting. I also read Boyfriend for Hire**** by the same author and although I enjoyed it, the story was too slight to merit five stars. An escort hired to take a woman to a wedding falls for her brother. Nice, but not memorable in the way the Ranch series is. I’m aware that there is to be a series but have not yet investigated.

Full Disclosure and Buyer’s Remorse by DJ Jamison (Real Estate Relations Books 1 and 2) ***** These are excellent and appealed to me more than the Hearts and Health series by this author, probably because the romance, in both cases between well rounded characters, was mixed with some exciting mystery and crime. I will definitely be following the series, and hope to meet Camden and Reid, and Miguel and Lee again, plus their extended families.

My only sunshine by Rowan McAllister. ***** A ‘western’ romance set on a ranch, with fascinating family politics, a local crime to solve, and a slow romance build to maintain interest.

Storm Glass and Mirror Gate by Jeff Wheeler **** These are the first two novels in the Harbinger series which I will be following. I like the entire dystopian quasi-steampunk AU with the strong heroines but I did feel that book 2 was heading towards being more overtly religious/moralistic in tone. I had been delighted by the way the first in the series let the reader see aspects of our own world (especially our economic divisions) from a new angle – something I expect of good fantasy and sci-fi. The sequel seemed more prone to leading the reader’s opinions, but the story is good and I will buy the next book.

Why I’m not talking to white people about race/Reni Eddo-Lodge**** I have written an in-depth review of this which I will post on WordPress and on my Dreamwidth blog this week, and for now I will just say I was impressed. However, for me personally, the theme was a familiar one which is why I have only awarded four stars. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone wanting to know more about race relations in UK.

The Works 2: Poems on Every Subject and for Every Occasion edited by Brain Moses and Pie Corbett**** I found this among my rescued books. I skimmed it, really, because a lot of the poems were familiar, and others were never going to appeal because of their subject matter. I passed it on to my grandson, for whom I probably originally intended it (it postdates my own teaching career)and who will, I think, thoroughly enjoy the sections where poems on maths and science are gathered together. It’s altogether a good collection if you’re looking for something for the 9-13 age range or for someone who teaches that level.

The mediocre:

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward *** I found this harder to read than The Fire and the Fury. It covered much of the same ground with greater focus on the campaign and some of the team. It was clearly written for an American audience which made it sometimes hard for an outsider to follow. I did gain one or two new insights, such as the effect on American politics of the way candidates can spend vast sums of their personal fortunes on their election campaigns. We tend to view other countries through the lens of our own experiences and this book made it very clear that America is, for me, an extremely alien place.

The Arrangement by Felice Stevens *** The book had Reed and Carter in an arrangement that was supposed to be purely sexual, then of course the pair fell in love. The main angst was centred on Reed’s ADHD and Carter’s brother with his developmental delay. The story was all right, and the writing was competent but I got annoyed at the way everyone, including Reed himself, referred to conditions like ADHD as an illness.

Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott *** The only way I can describe this is that it was weird! Rotherweird is supposed to be a town in southern England that has been deliberately cut off from mainstream life since the days of the Tudors, because of a mystery that the book investigates. The concept was good, but the characters were two dimensional, heroes and villains alike, and the mystery was somehow extraordinarily unpleasant. There was some good writing: Tudor times were told in present tense which made them more accessible, whereas present day happenings were told in ‘normal’ narrative style. The town itself was lovingly described, in great detail, and so were some of its annual events.

The bad:

Springtide Meeting by Emma Perkins ** The heroine is sent to Weymouth for her health and falls in love with her doctor who, only having communicated with her in writing, does not realise she is his patient. The late eighteenth century setting is poorly presented, and the story seems unlikely. I didn’t care much about either of the main characters and the minor ones were so minor as to be negligible.

The Billionaire’s Boyfriend by Geoffrey Knight ** I think this was meant to be funny but the humour was unrelenting and heavy handed so I got very tired of Matt and Calvin and will not be following them in what is apparently to be a series.

The Thief Taker by CS Quinn ** This crime story is set during the Great Plague of London in the seventeenth century but degenerates into some kind of semi-supernatural tale with plague victims as a stand-in for zombies. Unlikely and not terribly well written.

My only home by Lina Langley * This was supposed to be an mm romance and a ghost story. There was no obvious reason for the romance and the ghost turned out to be a time traveller. Some bad writing (it was not always easy to know who was saying or doing what) and some even worse proof reading with typos galore. Noah and Anthony were supremely uninteresting, with inadequate background stories, and two dimensional characterisation.

And then the dire:

Cozy Mystery 7 book set by Sylvia and Leigh Selfman: abandoned. I just couldn’t stand the style, and gave up after a few pages. The set was free, thank goodness.

Dragonlore by Daniel Arenson: also abandoned after a few pages. This is the first book in a trilogy with dragon and phoenix shapeshifters in a political struggle which ends in open warfare. I didn’t like the characters or the style of this free book.

The Banished Craft by E.D.E. Bell: abandoned. There were humans in a dystopian post-apocalyptic society, dragons in another similar situation, and intervening aliens who spoke and thought in capitals. There were no detailed characters to attract any empathy, and no immediate sense of a gripping plot, other than the possible collapse of the entire system. I gave up trying to follow any of the threads. Another freebie.

Stoker and Bash: The fangs of Scavo by Selina Kray: abandoned. This one wasn’t free and sounded good, being the beginning of a series based round one of the earliest detectives in the Victorian police force working with a consulting freelance detective. I suppose I expected something like Sherlock Holmes but I was disappointed. The first mystery involved the world of spiritualism, and I couldn’t work out what the crime was meant to be, after quite a few chapters. So I stopped reading, though it’s still on my Kindle so I suppose if I ever have nothing to do, e.g. in a waiting room somewhere, I might continue.

There were far too many dire, this last month!

Fanfic

I’ve been downloading the Professionals Big Bang which is where writers and artists come together to create long and hopefully satisfying stories for the fandom. By next month I might actually have read some, but I suspect they will all require some knowledge of the show.

I’ve started on some similar works in the Lewis Challenge Halloween Frightfest. There’s some good writing, so far, but again, unless you are familiar with both the characters and their backgrounds it isn’t really accessible.

I have been following the latest instalments in Brumeier’s series After the Eclipse ***** which can all be found at https://archiveofourown.org/series/839529
These are delightful sci-fi tales using fandom tropes but set in an original small community (with slight echoes of Nightvale). Brumeier’s writing is assured and polished. I would highly recommend this series. It doesn’t, by the way, have any romance. I think I may have mentioned it before, but she has posted another couple of stories this month so it’s worth another look if you already know and like it.

September reviews

TV and films

Far From The Madding Crowd****
I quite enjoyed it and it’s a very beautiful film. However, I still prefer the old Julie Christie version and I didn’t think this was somehow as true to the Hardy source. It kept to the story, but the characters were not quite Hardy’s characters.

YouTube 2Cellos mix****
This is one of my go-to mixes and I love their work. As with all collections, some of the chosen music appeals to me more than the rest. My favourite is the Game of Thrones theme, set in Dubrovnik.

Kingdom of Heaven***
I wasn’t expecting miracles of this. Orlando Bloom is incredibly wooden, as usual, and there are far too many battle scenes during which I got bored and started reading/playing games/checking emails/etc. The history is well presented and interesting. Something that annoyed me was that the blurb ‘sold’ it as having Philip Glennister and Nikolai Coster-Waldau in it. Well, it did, but in tiny roles – blink and you’d miss them. False advertising in a way!

Vera Drake***
I’m sure this was very worthy and presented the problem of ‘back street abortion’ in an interesting way. Imelda Staunton is an excellent actress. However, I knew all the background to the story, and because I grew up in that era I was familiar with all the painstakingly recreated locations, indoor and out. So I got bored.

Books

The excellent:

Junk ***** and Barging In***** both by Josephine Myles
These were both excellent stories with well developed characters including the minor ones. The themes, respectively hoarding, and living on a narrow boat, were meticulously researched and interesting. I particularly like the ‘Englishness’ of this author’s work. Both highly recommended even if you don’t always read mm romance.

A Seditious Affair***** and A Gentleman’s Position***** both by KJ Charles in her Society of Gentlemen series.
Two excellent mm romances. Both explored serious themes and events, the first the undercurrents of English rebellion in the wake of the French revolution, and the Cato Street conspiracy, and the second, class differences and the effects of an ‘upstairs/downstairs’ society on thought. Again, highly recommended though as they are not stand-alones, you might want to start earlier in the series. I have been continuing my Heyer re-reads and this author gives us just as much historical detail together with similarly well-developed characters. As it is an mm romance series set at a time when homosexuality was criminal, all the books deal well with this aspect of society at the time.

Fish out of Water by Amy Lane *****
An ex-cop and a lawyer get together to fight corruption. In the process they become involved with each other as well as rescuing Jackson’s brother from a trumped up charge. Some thrilling action and I was desperate for them to succeed. I am glad to see there are sequels.

Polo by Jilly Cooper *****
This was a re-read. Some of my Jilly Cooper books seem to have escaped the fire, and were in a box that came home. I love her novels set in the fictional county of Rutshire and will be re-reading the ones that have survived. Her writing is not truly great and has far too many bad puns and purple prose passages. However, as well as making the reader empathise with the main characters, despite their flaws, the author educates us very carefully about the underlying theme chosen for each book, in this case the game of Polo. Other stories feature topics as diverse as education, murder, orchestras, and art galleries… Highly recommended though if you’re approaching them for the first time it might be best to read them in order or you’ll get confused by some of the families. Polo has the romances between Daisy and Ricky, and Perdita and Luke as its main focus. As with the Heyer books, I will not continue with reviews, but I will be carrying on with the books!

Tribute Act by Joanna Chambers ****
A story in the Porthkennack series of novels by various authors set in the fictional town of Porthkennack in Cornwall. This one deals with family tensions, highlighted by a young girl’s need for a liver transplant. It was good, though I didn’t quite get immersed in either of the main characters.

The mediocre that other people might like:

Alpha Delta by R J Scott ***
Niall and Finn connect on a north sea oil rig and then there’s a terrorist plot. However, the story is too short to develop either the heroes or the villains adequately and whilst I like this author I think she should stick to full length novels.

Special Delivery by Heidi Cullinan ***

Another author I usually like and the writing was good, but the plot, centred round a young man who runs off with a truck driver, lacked total plausibility for me.

Fire and Water by Andrew Grey***
The first in the Carlisle Cops series but I won’t bother with more. A cop protects and then gets involved with a swimming instructor. The story explores concepts of beauty and attitudes towards it. I was not particularly interested in either of the main characters though the story line was reasonably gripping, with an abusive ex making trouble.

Dead Things by Meredith Russell ***
A rather unlikely zombie apocalypse with some mm romance thrown in for some reason though as the characters had very little interaction with each other rather than with the zombies it was hard to see why.

And the poor:

Loaded by Casey Ashwood **
This was a novella and followed a rather tired ‘gay for you’ trope. Poor writing.

Fanfiction
I’ve been reading snippets from the Marylebone Monthly Illustrated (all kinds of original characters including talking animals set in the Sherlock Holmes world), stories for the Lewis Summer Challenge, which need an in-depth knowledge of the show, and the Bisto Con 2018 zine which needs familiarity with The Professionals for real enjoyment.

If you like mm romance, I would recommend
Love Is A Rebellious Bird by gloria_andrews and 100percentsassy*****
https://archiveofourown.org/works/1162438
This is a clever AU based on the characters from the One Direction band but setting them in the world of classical music and the LSO. You don’t really need to know anything about the characters to enjoy the story, the main focus is on music, and the plot is convoluted and interesting. However, forget the epilogue, which, although it contains a rather well done proposal scene, follows the main characters right up to old age in a short chapter. The story would have worked better if it had finished just before this but maybe the writers’ fans demanded more.

August Reviews

I’m aware that we’re half way through September. I had this post ready then went on holiday with my new smartphone and NONE of my passwords…

Films and TV

Skyfall*****
This is my favourite of the Bond films. I have to confess that it was on TV so late this time that I went to bed before it finished, but then I know it well and this was a re-watch so I felt able to miss the end.

The Lady in the Van****
Based on an Alan Bennett ‘memoir’ (which I had read a long time ago) about a homeless lady who moves her van into Alan’s drive. Maggie Smith is the brilliant actor in the leading role. However, I thought the concept was too slight to justify the length of the film.

Terminator Genisys**
I half watched this with a book open. I thought it was rubbish and badly acted.

Books

Recommendations:

Tramps and Thieves by Rhys Ford *****

This is the sequel to Murder and Mayhem. Dante and Rook are inadvertently involved in crazy murder scenarios again. Just as delightful as the first book.

Friends of the Dusk and All of a Winter’s Night by Phil Rickman *****
These are part of the Merrily Watkins series which I adore. Merrily is a C of E vicar who has been asked to take on the role of diocesan exorcist or deliverance minister in Herefordshire. The books have a nice blend of supernatural possibilities and straightforward crime detection. There is also the pleasure of following the lives of Merrily, her boyfriend and her daughter plus their friends in the village and the police force. These two novels were even darker than their predecessors, but the plots were gripping, the character development was fascinating, the locations were lovingly portrayed (I know the area well) and the research into English traditions and legends was, as usual, impeccable. If you think you’d like them, please start at the beginning of the series, since you need to read about the family and friends in the right sequence.

Junkyard Heart by Garrett Leigh (A Porthkennack novel) *****
Jas, a photographer, leaves London for his father’s home in Porthkennack and meets Kim, who is a carpenter/furniture designer and part time tattoo artist. The story is very loosely linked to House of Cards in the same series by this author. As usual for Porthkennack stories, a gripping plot with well developed characters.

Love at First Hate by J L Merrow (A Porthkennack novel) ****
This follows the same family members as Wake Up Call and One Under by the same author, but this time the main character is Bran Roscarrock and the story concerns his involvement with Sam, an academic who is helping to stage an exhibition about Edward the Black Prince, one of Bran’s heroes. I enjoyed the story, especially the way it added to the Porthkennack body of works, and it was well written, but for the first time, I haven’t felt able to give a Porthkennack book (or a J L Merrow book) five stars. This is because I wasn’t totally able to believe in the rapid changes in Bran’s character and attitudes. Still thoroughly worth reading if you’re interested in the Porthkennack novels.

Lessons for Sleeping Dogs by Charlie Cochrane (Cambridge Fellows Mysteries)**** Another ‘was it murder?’ mystery with a locked room too. Jonty’s sister helps solve the case but I don’t find her as interesting as his parents were. The plots of this, and the previous book, were at times difficult to follow so I’m giving it four stars for the pleasure of the company of the detectives but not five, because the mystery itself failed to enthrall.

The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer ****
I know I said I wouldn’t review my re-reads of the Regency romances, and I did read a couple more this month which I won’t list here. But this is one of her historical books, much weightier than the romances, only placed in their company (by the publisher) because it takes place in the same period and has a romance as the focus. The book follows Wellington’s Peninsula campaign after the siege of Badajoz until the army reaches France, and then finally takes in Waterloo. It’s based on accounts and diaries written at the time, and is quite heavy going in some respects, only really rescued by being told from the perspective of a young couple, Brigade Major Harry Smith and his Spanish wife Juana. This is a historical couple and their friends, who form the main group the story follows, are also all historical figures. My daughter abandoned the book, saying it was too much like a text book account of battles and marches. I had read it years ago and had forgotten how ‘dry’ it was. However, I enjoyed it for a different reason: the campaign followed, roughly, the route we have frequently taken across northern Spain, and I am familiar with all the places mentioned. That, for me, brought the history to life. I have to say that I think Heyer should have stuck to Regency romance. The style of her handling of ‘grander’ historical themes is not as appealing and for that matter her foray into twentieth century crime stories lacks the humour and social observation which make her romances so fascinating.

A Casual Weekend Thing by A J Thomas****
Christopher is a cop in San Diego. He learns of his brother’s suicide and travels to Montana to sort out the funeral. Doug, a local officer in Montana, gets involved with him and together they unravel a mystery which includes a local paedophile and a lot of danger for the two men. I enjoyed the book and found the plot gripping while I was reading, but afterwards kept thinking of minor plotholes.

Books I read but wouldn’t recommend highly. You, of course, might love them!

Hearts and Health 4-6 boxed set by D L Jamison ***
Room for Recovery, Surprise Delivery and Orderly Affair are three further books in the Hearts and Health series, very loosely connected with a hospital in the town of Ashe, and its staff. Although I enjoyed meeting the main characters from the earlier books as minor ones in these, I got tired of the amount of explicit sex. It seemed to be out of proportion to the plot development. The books are well written and if you enjoy modern m/m romance, and don’t get bored by extra sex scenes, you might enjoy them more than I did.

The Body in the Dales by J R Ellis ***
I was hopeful about this police procedural, set in the Yorkshire Dales where I used to live. The mystery was well done: a corpse is found in a pot hole and all the usual locked-room tropes are employed. However, I found the police team really boring, and will not be following the series.

Books I thought were poor or worse.

The Necessary Deaths by David Dawson **
A crime story that moves between Oxford and Brighton, with some amateur detection by a lawyer and his lover. I found them, and the other characters, quite boring, and the plot, centred on pharmaceutical research with a dose of homophobia, unlikely. I kept thinking some of the writing was American (for example UK motorways are never referred to as freeways) but then discovered the author is British.

Baby, It’s Cold by Josh Lanyon **
This novella was too short for any real character development and I forgot the plot almost as soon as I’d finished reading. I think Lanyon should stick to full length novels and perhaps to some element of mystery or crime.

High Lords of Phaerie by Brock E Deskins
I abandoned this as unreadable. I’m not sure whether it is actually part of a series, and if so, it is definitely not book 1.

Fanfiction

I don’t usually recommend stories that need some knowledge of canon for true enjoyment, but if anyone is familiar with Hawaii Five O I would like to say how much I liked this pair of stories:
Deja Vu All Over Again and Time in a Bottle by stellarmeadow***** can be found at https://archiveofourown.org/series/36205 as the Out of Time series. Unfortunately, since the second one was uploaded in 2014 it’s unlikely there’ll be anything further in this ‘universe’.
Steve and Danny turn out to have some superman powers to do with stopping time, but find a lot of angst while coming to terms with them. The plot is interesting, the m/m element is believable, and the writing is excellent. I gather the author is also a published writer but I looked at her published books and the themes didn’t appeal to me.

July Reviews 2018

As usual, another month has passed without a post from me but have some reviews!

Films and TV

Well, I watched lots of news, politics and sport. There don’t seem to be any current series that appeal to me and I only managed one film.

A Beautiful Mind ***
Russell Crowe is a good actor in this film version of the story of John Nash, the Nobel winning mathematician who suffered from schizophrenia. Reviews and articles, read after watching, bear out my suspicion that this is a very sanitised and romanticised retelling of his life. I got quite bored and watched it in two halves over two days.

Books

Recommended:

Contraband Hearts (Porthkennack) by Alex Beecroft *****

This historical romance between a government official and a suspected pirate/smuggler is set in Porthkennack, the fictional Cornish town invented by this author and opened up to fellow writers. Perry and Tomas make an interesting pair, with contrasting ethics which draw closer as the plot evolves. There is a focus on racism and slavery, and a detailed look at class differences. A highly recommended read.

Count the Shells and Lessons for Survivors by Charlie Cochrane *****

Count the Shells is another historical story set in Porthkennack, just after WW1. Michael meets Harry, the younger brother of the man who died in the war who he thought was his lover. There are family secrets and a lot of angst but a happy ending and a nice recreation of the period.

Lessons for Survivors is in the Cambridge Fellows series. It concerns a possible murder for an inheritance and there are family secrets in this book too. Jonty and Orlando are on form, now that they have recovered to some extent from their WW1 experiences but I missed Jonty’s parents who died in the Spanish flu epidemic. Cochrane creates excellent minor characters who are often endearing and these were ones I was sad to have removed from the series.
Both books are well researched and well written. If you like period mysteries, these can be highly recommended.

Undercover Star (Rock and Art Theft 1) by Jackie Keswick *****

Matisse is a pop star who is brought in to help Josh, a cop, investigate art theft. The two characters seem to be like chalk and cheese and it takes time for them to appreciate not only each other but each other’s jobs. The mm romance that ends the book is predictable but well done, and I look forward to the next story in the series. Recommended.

Frederica and Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer *****

These were both re-reads. I love Heyer’s Regency romances with their humour, detailed social history and exciting plots. I found one box of my Heyer books had been rescued from Portugal so I’ve embarked on a gradual re-reading. I’ve read most of them at least twice previously and will continue, but I won’t review any more because there isn’t much else to say about them. They stand head and shoulders above most Regency romances, with interesting minor characters, and subtle subtext, and I can highly recommend them.

Wight Mischief and Camwolf by JL Merrow *****

Wight Mischief was a pleasant standalone mystery. Will, a personal trainer, accompanies a journalist friend to the Isle of Wight and gets involved with a Marcus, a reclusive author who has secrets and problems. The writing was as good as usual but I have to say I prefer the author’s series where I can get to know the minor characters and follow the major ones into later books.

Camwolf was also a standalone but was very gripping. Werewolves in Cambridge, a researcher and a student, have problems, not from the general populace but from other werewolves. Again, I would really have liked to have followed Julian and Nick into another book but I understand the author’s other werewolf novels are about other werewolves.

Five Enchanted Roses edited by Kaycee Browning ****

An anthology of stories based on the theme of Beauty and the Beast. I enjoy retellings and twists that develop fairy tales and legends and have written some myself. But I often find anthologies are a very mixed bag with varying standards. In this case, all five tales were excellent. They each veered quite wildly from their origin but were still recognisable. I can’t choose a favourite. Recommended if you like fairy stories and anthologies.

Not to my taste but you might like:

The Crimson Outlaw by Alex Beecroft ***

I usually enjoy Alex’s work but this story of Vali and Mihai, and their revolt against a brutal local chieftain was too slight, with too little backstory to engage my interest in either the heroes or the region. The writing was technically good, but to be honest I think the author should stick with longer novels where she can spend time on the character development and world building that are her strengths. If you’re after a pleasing short story, read it.

And the ones I don’t recommend…

Frozen Out (Gunnhildur mystery) by Quentin Bates **

I bought this some time ago and gave up then decided to give it a chance. The initial premise, a police procedural set in Iceland, appealed to me but the characters were uniformly uninteresting and so was the crime. I will not be following the series.

The Werebear’s Touch by Emma N **

I’m glad this was a free e-book because I didn’t enjoy it. I like shifter stories but Arc, the werebear and Aurora, the woman he loves, are boring and their story lacks interest. I did manage to get to the end and the writing is technically competent so I haven’t labelled it dire.

Fanfiction

As usual, I read some short pieces from the Marylebone series which I’ve reviewed previously. I enjoy having these tiny stories appearing in my inbox!

Again as usual, I read some works that would need knowledge of the canon for real enjoyment.

Two recommendations:

‘to rule the fate of many’ by authoressjean***** is the sequel ‘to change the course of the future’ set in a Hobbit alternative universe in which Bilbo took the ring to Mordor. I reviewed that some time ago. The writing is less than stellar (which is surprising given that the author claims her day job is in editing and proof reading). However, the story, concerning the abduction of some of Bilbo’s hobbit kin on their way to Erebor to visit him, is gripping and the explanation for what happens is interesting. I found it hard to put down! If you read and enjoyed the first story, try this one, but it wouldn’t make a lot of sense without. 149643 words, so quite a long read.

https://archiveofourown.org/works/918008

On the Night’s Watch by Miss_M*****
I adored this. It’s an alternative story of Jaime and Brienne from A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) and sets them as detectives in a modern version of the seven kingdoms (complete with mobile phones, cars, etc.) investigating the disappearance of Sansa Stark. The world building, bringing King’s Landing up to the equivalent of the twenty first century, is superb, and all the characters, particularly the hero and heroine but also the others who make an appearance, are excellently portrayed. The romance between the hero and heroine is touching, and slow, and seems very real. At 105820 words this is another long and satisfying novel.

http://download.archiveofourown.org/works/1397218

Reviews: June 2018

Films and TV

I seem to have spent most of the month on news and documentaries, with involuntary sports viewing whilst in the lounge. The only TV drama I have watched was the rest of the final season of The Bridge. I loved the whole series but I didn’t think this final season was quite as good as the preceding ones. The writers seemed to be too determined to bring things to some kind of conclusion, and lot of the minor characters were hard to bear in mind and identify on their random appearances. However, I liked it, and am sad that there will be no more.

Books

Here are the books that I would recommend highly.

First, three excellent books by Rhys Ford.

Down and Dirty by Rhys Ford (Cole McGinnis series5) ***** follows Cole’s brother and ex-partner in a delightful ‘side’ story to the main focus of the series. It’s a necessary diversion if the reader is to enjoy the sequel which is
Dirty Heart by Rhys Ford (Cole McGinnis 6) ***** In this volume we find out why Ben shot Cole and Rick, an event that predates the series but underlies a lot of Cole’s thoughts and actions throughout the stories. Bobby and Ichiro from Down and Dirty help to solve the mystery.
Murder and Mayhem by Rhys Ford***** I’m hoping to read more about ex thief Rook and his new boyfriend, cop Dante. The story was exciting and, as usual, extremely well written.

Two more excellent reads from Charlie Cochrane.

All Lessons Learned (Cambridge Fellows) by Charlie Cochrane ***** is set post WWI and deals with the psychological problems faced by soldiers during and after the war. Jonty and Orlando are able to overcome their problems and help others in the process.
Broke Deep by Charlie Cochrane ***** is set in the Porthkennack world, the fictional Cornish town that a number of authors have now used to good effect. Dominic and Morgan are affected by stories of an old wreck off the Cornish coast and must solve a mystery to rescue their new relationship from ‘the rocks’.

House of Cards by Garrett Leigh ***** is another story from Porthkennack. Calum and Brix introduce us to the work of tattoo artists, and the problems of rescuing battery hens. I didn’t know this author in advance but trusted that the Porthkennack ‘imprint’ would deliver a good story, and it did. I will look out for more of their work.

When a Scot Ties the Knot: Castles Ever After by Tessa Dare ***** This is a Regency romance with a difference, set in a Scottish castle rather than London. Maddie is a delightful heroine, Logan is an excellent hero, and there are, besides, lobsters which may or may not have a love affair.

Now for some I enjoyed but which were not, for various reasons, quite the same standard as the five star ones.

Urgent Care by DJ Jamison **** Hearts and Health 3 I was looking forward to this third volume and liked the story of Xavier and Trent, but there was too much explicit sex that did not further the plot. I know publishers (and some readers) want this, but it isn’t totally to my taste and explains why the book got downgraded to four stars. However, I will be reading further volumes in the series!

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan ****
The inheritance, which arrives in the first chapter, is a baby elephant, and Inspector Chopra, who is retiring, solves a mystery with the elephant’s help. (The elephant is loyal, and saves his life.) A quirky and pleasing concept, but the mystery was not particularly gripping and the characters, including Chopra, didn’t hold my interest. I won’t be following the series but it was well written and if you like a ‘cosy’ mystery story that gives an excellent insight into everyday life in India, give it a try.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers ****
A star ship crewed by a mixture of various humans and aliens helps to prevent universe-wide mayhem. The characters were well developed and I liked them, but the plot was slow and I really did feel, at the end, that I’d travelled a very long way with them. If you enjoy sci-fi with a hefty dose of feminism, you will probably like this.

The King’s Justice by EM Powell ****
This is an extremely gory mediaeval whodunnit. The main characters and the plot were all well developed, the writing was good and the historical research was impeccable. However, whilst I am happy to read about things like trial by ordeal, or various murder details in non-fiction, I don’t like fiction to dwell on them so gloatingly. Not to my taste at all, but well done of its kind.

Then two books that were mildly disappointing.

Devil’s Kitchen (a prequel) and Brass in Pocket by Stephen Puleston *** are the first two stories in a competent but ultimately boring Welsh cop series. I was interested because of the locations, which I know well, but found myself irritated rather than delighted. The constant references to driving up and down the A55 were annoying, and Drake, the inspector who is the focus of the books, was also an irritating rather than intriguing character. He’s supposed to be OCD but the author tells us about his quirks too often, and he does sudoku puzzles in a seriously strange way. There are a number of books in the series but I won’t be following them.

And finally, one I hated, though I have to give it three stars for the standard of the writing.

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale *** has a fascinating theme, which was why I read it. An English clergyman and two scientists set out for Tasmania, to find the original Garden of Eden and scientific specimens. Their patron unwittingly charters a vessel of Manx smugglers intent on escaping the law. The eventful voyage reaches Tasmania at the time of the genocide of the Aboriginal Tasmanian people, and the book alternates between the voyagers (crew and passengers) and the Tasmanians (English and Aboriginal). There wasn’t, however, a single character with whom I could empathise. The Tasmanians were, perhaps deliberately, distanced from the reader by the way they were written, in what I assume was an attempt to show their very different culture and mindset. I have felt more sympathy for them when reading factual accounts. The book had too many major characters and the constant to-ing and fro-ing between their points of view was wearing, especially since I didn’t care much what happened to any of them. The writer won the Whitbread award when the book was first published and I am surprised, though the technical writing standard and historical research can’t be faulted.

Fanfiction

More fics and ficlets that needed knowledge of the fandoms before they would make sense. Then I found this one:
Liminal by GloriaMundi*****
on AO3 at https://archiveofourown.org/works/45789
It’s an AU (alternate universe) story in the Stargate Atlantis fandom and starts with Elizabeth Weir founding a commune on the Essex coast just after WWII. She calls it Atlantis and welcomes all those who wish to escape the world. John, Rodney, and others turn up, and there is some m/m romance but it is not the major focus of the story. There are supposed to be ghosts on the marshes but then some kind of contact is made. Rodney does not believe in ghosts but he manages to get in touch with the spirits or aliens. The writing was beautiful and I loved the way the characters were true to canon and yet fitted so perfectly into their roles in the story. I liked, too, the way those roles, and the ending, were alternate versions of the show. If you know SGA at all, go and read this!

It’s just over 56,000 words so short novel length, and don’t forget that AO3 lets you download in ebook versions.

 

May reviews

    Films and TV

The Bridge*****
This is still ongoing and I’m still enjoying it. I downloaded it to iPlayer and husband, who has been away, was watching an episode. I was doing something else but could hear it (and of course not see the subtitles). Anyway, I had this strange feeling that I could almost-but-not-quite understand the Swedish and Danish. This is apparently the last series, and it’s very ‘dark’ but beautifully done.

The Secret Life of the Zoo*****
There were only a few episodes this year, unless they are going to show more later. I love the programme.

Mr Holmes****
Brilliant acting and direction. However, I wasn’t convinced that this was how Holmes would have been in old age and I was never quite ‘hooked’ by the plot. It’s based on a novel of the same name by Mitch Cullin and I suppose it’s a kind of fanfiction.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel****
Again, beautifully made and acted. However, although I enjoyed it, I do think there was a desperate attempt to cash in on the first film and make another. I would have been quite happy if they’d left it as it was…

    Books

Starting with the five star, which means highly recommended.

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer *****
This was a re-read, chosen partly because I can always re-read Heyer’s novels but also because it filled a square on my book bingo (which I still need to post about). I love the whole premise of this novel, the initial setting in France, the move to England, the foreshadowing of the revolution and the setting up of the fictional families that will feature in later novels. I love, too, the way the heroine is initially disguised as a boy but later becomes a very fashionable young lady.

Judgement Day (Science of Discworld IV) by Pratchett, Cohen and Stewart *****
This was the final book in the Science of Discworld series and just as good as the others. I found some of the science, particularly the physics and astronomy, hard to grasp or at least hard to recall, because it was superbly well explained. Other sections, on genetics and evolution, were easier. As before, the factual chapters by Cohen and Stewart were interspersed with chapters of a delightful novella by Pratchett in which all the old favourite characters in Ankh-Morpork appear, and the day is saved for our earth by Marjorie Dawe, a brave and interesting librarian.

Lock Nut by JL Merrow *****
Number 5 in the Plumber’s Mate series. Just as full of humour, mystery and danger as the others, and perhaps particularly delightful for Brit readers with the local dialects, the locations, etc. This volume ends at the wedding of Phil and Tom and I just hope that isn’t the last we see of them. When you realise you seriously need to know all about the extended families of the most minor characters, you know the author is doing something right!

Spun by JL Merrow *****
This is a further instalment of the Shamwell series. Rory, the postman, meets David (Mark’s ex-PA from ‘Out’) when he takes him as a lodger. The settings and cast are as delightful as ever. Rory’s children probably steal the limelight. It’s a gentle romance, with Rory not quite sure whether he’s gay or bi, and David looking for stability. The difference in their ages and in their previous lifestyles threatens to separate them but as we can expect from this series, all is well.

One Under by JL Merrow *****
This is part of the Porthkennack series in which different authors get to ‘play’ in the fictional town of Porthkennack in Cornwall, initially created by Alex Beacroft. We meet some of the same characters who were in Wake Up Call, also by JL Merrow, and again, I enjoy getting to know the people. Mal, staying in Cornwall to recover from a traumatic work experience in London, meets Jory Roscarrock, from the family that upset his friend in the earlier book. Jory has to prove that he is not like his relatives before any kind of relationship can develop. An excellent story.

And yes – I seem to have had a JL Merrow month!

Then the good. Recommended but some of them are too short for my taste. I like either long novels or very short stories better than novellas, though I’ve been known to write a novella myself…

All China by various authors ed. Passport Books ****
This was slightly outdated – I think my father-in-law bought it when he went to China just after tourism opened up there. We have been talking about a possible trip so I wanted to read something that would tell me about the tourist angle rather than just the country in general. Very thorough and very interesting, but I think some of the holiday aspects will have changed quite a lot.

Bedside Manner by DJ Jamison ****
This second in the Hearts and Health series dealt with a slightly older doctor, just coming out of the closet, and a younger man who had been badly treated by his family because of being gay. It was a nice story and well told. The characters were minor ones in the first book in the series and I assume the later books will also deal with known characters. I like getting to know people and seeing them in the context of a series. The couple from book 1 figured in this novel, giving help and advice.

If it Ain’t Love by Tamara Allen ****
A short novel set in the Depression era in America. The anxiety and struggle are well described, and the main characters, a journalist and the son of a rich businessman who has committed suicide, are heavily involved in the community of job-seekers. Very well written, but as usual, I’d have liked something slightly longer on the same theme.

The Lonely Merman by Kay Berrisford ****
Ben works for the council and finds a man he thinks is a squatter in an old tower in a park. It turns out that Lyle is a merman, cursed to remain in the tower until his true love turns up. This is a beautifully twisted version of Sleeping Beauty, and my only complaint is that I wanted to know more about their later lives. There are, however, sequels, so maybe I can find out! It’s a fairly short story, but very well told.

Now for the mediocre. I read to the end but can’t honestly recommend these.

Wife Number Seven by Melissa Brown***
This was the story of a young woman married within a polygamous cult, who later chose to leave. It was reasonably interesting but I have read better accounts of cult life. Another book bingo choice!

Sultana’s Dream by Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain ***
I chose this for the book bingo as a translated novel (which the wikipedia page said it was…) but found that in fact the author wrote it initially in English so had to choose again. The blurb waxed lyrical about the science fiction aspect of the book and the feminist theme. I think it was probably fairly surprising for its time, but it was very short, and not particularly exciting, except as a curious though dated piece.

Jeannot Lapin by Beatrix Potter***
This was the eventual translation choice, which I read in French… It is, of course, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny and has the original illustrations. Yes, it’s a book for the very young, but reading in another language adds a further dimension to the work, and in any case, Potter’s works are delightful. However, this is not a recommended book unless you have (or teach) small children.

Seth and Casey by RJ Scott ***
I like this author and the writing was up to standard but the book was a novella so too short both for my taste and for the author to explore fully the themes she chose, centred round PTSD and the problems inherent in losing the ability to do a much loved job. It deals with an injured firefighter who has been refusing to share his stress and concerns with his teacher husband. He then has to rescue the husband and some pupils in a storm. I believe the storm was based on an actual event and was interestingly portrayed.

Starting from Scratch by Jay Northcote***
Housemates series book 5. I found the story interesting because it dealt with a young trans character and very few novels explore that issue. However, I do find the entire series (or at least the volumes I’ve read so far) contain far too much explicit sex attached to very slight plots. This was no exception and I don’t think I’ll bother with any more. The books are well written, with the characters mostly students at Plymouth University.

Holes by Louis Sachar***
Famous, so I thought I’d read it. Very well written, but I didn’t enjoy it much. Stanley is sent to a correctional facility after a miscarriage of justice, and one of the things the inmates have to do is to dig holes. To say any more would be to spoil the surprises in the plot. I found it too full of coincidences, and I didn’t really empathise with any of the main characters.

And finally, one I really disliked.

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman**
This came with rave reviews but I didn’t like it. I know it has been made into a blockbuster film but I imagine the main focus is on the locations. Italy is lovingly and lushly described. I got intensely irritated with the young man who fell in love (or lust) with an academic summer guest (I disliked him, too) and with their ‘affair’ which was not terribly interesting and not even redeemed by tragedy.

    Fanfiction

I read quite a lot of fanfic this month. Well, I seem to have read a lot in general! As usual, much of what I read needs love and knowledge of the particular fandom to make a lot of sense, but there is one story I want to recommend.

On the Road to Come What May by rhymer23*****
This is in the Stargate Atlantis fandom and all you really need to know is that John, Rodney, Teyla and Ronon are a team who explore other planets. Everything else is explained within the story which is told from the perspective of Jasper and Kit, natives of one of these other planets. The basic plot is a quest, trying to get the team back to a stargate so that they can return to Atlantis. The world building is incredible and the character development of the two ‘aliens’ is rich and detailed. The team are presented just as they appear in canon. There is no romance; this is what’s known in fandom as a ‘gen’ fic where the adventure is paramount. You can find it at https://archiveofourown.org/works/2262621 and it’s both long (almost 102,000 words) and very satisfying for anyone who enjoys the sci-fi genre.