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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.

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Posted by on September 15, 2018 in reviews

 

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Not all prize winners 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!

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in critiques, other writers

 

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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

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2018 in reviews

 

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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.

 

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2018 in reviews

 

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Trope meme

The meme said:
Offer me a trope (freeform, or tvtropes terminology — your call), and i’ll rank it on a scale of no/rather not/dunno/i guess/ sure/yes/fuck yes/oh god you don’t even know, and possibly sprout a mini-rant along with it. in response, you’re getting the same number of tropes from me, which you can either take as a prompt to do the same thing, or ignore altogether.
So I read a friend’s answers with interest and asked them for my own set. If you really really want, I can give some to you in comments.

This is what they gave me:

    1.Mathematician’s Answer

Well, since I don’t enjoy mathematics, the brief answer is no. But I love the idea of the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything being 42, and I was intrigued by Flatland which uses geometry to explore social prejudice. I also enjoy the way John and Rodney in Stargate Atlantis are both mathematicians. So I suppose the longer answer is maybe? It will depend on the context and the style…

    2.Mixing genres

Yes, definitely. I enjoy a lot of different genres but the books (and films) that really appeal to me usually contain more than one genre. I especially like historical or fantasy stories with a crime mystery or romance. Somehow, dealing with more than one genre at once seems to help authors to build seriously three-dimensional characters and well-developed worlds. My own writing combines fantasy with romance and mystery and I write, initially, for myself.

    3.Species Lost and Found

If we’re talking about sci-fi, yes, I love aliens – it doesn’t matter how sentient they are. If we’re talking about our own planet I prefer the lost or found species to be in non-fiction accounts of exploration and discovery. But that’s something I like reading about so yes to that, too.

    4.Dying Declaration of Love

This has to be a definite no! I dislike major character death in most cases. Even Romeo and Juliet is not really my ‘thing’. So dying declarations just don’t cut it, unless they’re merely a clue for detectives to follow. I’m aware, in saying I dislike major character death, that for historical novels, which I enjoy, the characters are inevitably dead at the time of reading. But I like to leave them at the end of the novel thinking they will have a normal life. I am also aware of killing off murder victims in my own work, but they are never major characters!

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2018 in personal

 

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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.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2018 in reviews

 

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Would you rather…?

Seen on a friend’s blog and stolen because it fascinated me and I desperately need to post something. We’ve been really busy with family problems and social media has had to take a back seat for the last few weeks.

Anyway: would you rather…

1. Download music // buy a CD

Download.

I lost all my CDs in the Portuguese fire so I’m now creating playlists on Spotify to fill the most urgent of the gaps. I don’t think I’ll buy too many more CDs because I use either the radio or my laptop. But there are one or two favourites that don’t seem to be available on Spotify so I might buy those again.

2. Use MP3 player // Use CD Player

Use MP3 player.

My CD player went in the fire, too. There’s one in the car but I forget to take CDs out with me unless it’s a really long journey so I usually listen to the radio. I use the laptop in the house at the moment. I’m not sure about the future but may buy new devices.

3. Watch a movie at a theatre // Rent a video

Rent a video.

I lost all my DVDs too. I’m now a member of Amazon Prime so I can watch some things on that. I have bought one or two DVDs and borrowed some as well. I’m not wild about the cinema – the sound is almost always too loud, and recently we went to a showing where the heating failed and I froze. I quite like big screens for special effects but films with those are few and far between for me. We had a DVD projector and screen and those went, too.

4. Amusement park for the day // Picnic in a park for a day

Picnic.

I am willing to go to an Amusement park for other people but I hate the rides myself – and really always have done, even as a child. Places like Alton Towers are OK because there are the gardens to enjoy, though the entry price puts me off! I enjoy picnics though a whole day sounds excessive… We usually picnic to break a journey and I quite enjoy planning the contents of the picnic basket!

5. Read a magazine // Dollage with a magazine

Read a magazine.

Actually, I have no idea what Dollage is and Google was singularly unhelpful. I don’t read many magazines – mostly New Scientist, Private Eye, and National Geographic – and not every issue of those but I do enjoy them. I will flick through something in a waiting room – usually go for the glossy ones about house furnishings. I used to subscribe to a couple of writing magazines but found they got a bit repetitive.

So – that’s May dealt with… Hopefully June will see a return to normality around here. The photograph for this post was a sort of cheat – I took it a couple of years ago (at this date) but the pool was in an indoor ‘water park’.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2018 in personal

 

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