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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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*****
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.
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
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.
I half watched this with a book open. I thought it was rubbish and badly acted.
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.
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.
I was wondering recently why I so frequently, in my reviews, reject lit!fic as mediocre whilst recommending genre fiction or fanfiction.
I think to appeal to me a story needs to have at least one character (preferably more) with whom I can empathise or sympathise: someone I care about, whose future actually concerns me. I have realised that in a lot of modern lit!fic this is not the case. Obviously it isn’t always the case in genre fic either, but I get more annoyed with lit!fic because I’ve usually paid more for it.
In two recent books that won prestigious awards I found I couldn’t care less about any of the characters. These were The Luminaries, and English Passengers. In fact I just wanted to get to the end, find out if there was an actual plot worth following, and feel virtuous about reaching the conclusion of something I’d paid for… This has been the case for numerous examples of the genre – and yes, I’m regarding lit!fic as a genre here.
I have no idea why there is a trend towards writing about people who are unlikeable. It hasn’t always been the case for general or literary writers. Dickens, Trollope and Eliot made sure we cared about their characters. Austen is perhaps a separate issue, falling into the romance genre whilst also holding a role in classic fiction. Later writers such as Greene and Forster made us want to know how their characters felt, reacted, etc. And I suppose there are modern writers who do manage it. I adored Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, though perhaps it falls into the romance genre in some respects.
There have always been classics and literary novels I’ve disliked, but they’ve been, until recently, heavily outnumbered by the ones I enjoyed. I don’t particularly like books that are about a place rather than the individuals who live there. I like Marquez’s style but I enjoyed Love in the Time of Cholera (a romance?) much better than A Hundred Years of Solitude. Even then, I did care what happened to the town, whereas in the two books I mentioned above I almost gave up in despair.
Both were historical novels and I have read other similar books which got boring very quickly. History, for me, it seems, needs to focus on one or two well developed characters rather than a cast of hundreds. And novels with contemporary themes that are lauded to the skies are often equally boring.
There seems to be a focus, on the part of critics, on style rather than content. I get the impression that many of them don’t actually read any books in what they call genre fiction – romance, thrillers, fantasy, etc. So they wouldn’t know a good plot if it came and smacked them between the eyes.
I want plot almost as much as I want character. I am not interested in romance (mm or fm) that is all about sex and feelings. I want to know how the characters feel, yes, but only in the course of a story.
So I’m looking for character, plot and style. A big ask? Not really. A lot of genre fiction has all three. A lot of modern lit!fic, in my opinion, is sadly lacking in the first two. If you know otherwise, do please let me know!
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.